Monday, November 29, 2010

Chocolate-Peppermint Brownies--Holiday Cookie of the Week

Let me start by say right off that brownies are an American invention. (Wave flag here!) Nobody knows exactly who created them, but the first recipe turned up in the 1906 The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, followed by two more very similar versions in Lowney’s Cook Book the following year.

The first book was by Fannie Farmer, the second by a Boston-area chocolate purveyor, Walter Lowney (then a major competitor of Baker’s). All three recipes called for unsweetened chocolate, as did most versions up though the 1950s. (Check out Lowney's brownies here--a fine classic recipe.) 

Now maybe you don’t really care about this, but because I’m a serious culinary history buff I’m compelled to point out that some sources wrongly say that brownies initially appeared in the 1890s. I’ve gone and investigated, and although several earlier goodies were named brownies, they were not the brownies we’re talking about here. One so-called “brownie” was a candy, another was a cookie made brown with molasses. (Try serving the molasses ‘brownie” today, and see what happens!)

Another bit of misinformation I must correct: A few sources have claimed that a well-known New England food writer named Brownie Schrumpf—I’m not making that moniker up—invented brownies. I’ve confirmed that Mrs. Schrumpf was actually born in 1903, so, unless she was a child baking prodigy, I’m ruling her out as the originator of the treat.

Since baking is one of my areas of expertise, I also feel obliged to squelch the story that brownies came about when somebody accidentally left the baking soda out of a cake. This is wrong! If you leave out the chemical leavening, you’ll still get cake—I’ve tried it. On the other hand, if you mistakenly leave out the milk or other liquid from a chocolate cake, your result will be a dense, thick batter and something approximating a brownie. (Sorry, had to set that record straight, too.)

As for the following recipe, I could spin a charming yarn about how a resourceful baker ran out of nuts and threw some crushed peppermint candies into her brownie batter. And as a result, blah, blah, blah, a new, exciting chapter of browniedom is upon us. But the boring truth is that I just like chocolate and peppermint together and wanted to come up with an appealing holiday twist on the classic. I hope you’ll make them anyway! (If you like brownies, but must go gluten free, see the Gluten-Free Girl's chocolate-peanut butter brownies.) Or, if you're in the mood to bake something besides brownies, you may also want to check out my Cranberry-Cherry Crumb Bars or my Cranberry-White Chocolate Cookies. Still another possibility--my Nicely Spicy Cranberry-Pear Muffins.

Chocolate-Peppermint Brownies 
These easy brownies are fudgy and somewhat dense, and they stay moist for several days. If you garnish the top with peppermint candy shards these will be a little hard and crunchy at first, but will gradually soften as the bars stand.

Note that if you don’t incorporate the optional drops of oil of peppermint called for, the peppermint flavor in the brownies will be fairly subtle. However, don’t try to add extra peppermint extract to boost the minty character; this will likely just lend a harsh quality rather than a heightened pleasant methol taste. The reason: Some of the most appealing flavor and aroma notes of mint are fat soluble so they are available in peppermint oil but absent from the water soluble peppermint extract.

Oil of peppermint is often stocked with the candy and cake-making supplies in discount department stores, craft stores, and some gourmet shops during the holidays. It can be readily purchased on line. It’s much more powerful than extract, so you never need more than a few drops. (The oil keeps well and is a wonderful addition to frostings and candies, too.)

Tip: The easiest way to crush the peppermint candies is to put the unwrapped pieces in a triple layer of sturdy plastic bags and pound them with a kitchen mallet or the back of a heavy spoon. They need to be in 1/8-inch or smaller bits.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely broken or chopped
1/4 cup finely crushed peppermint pinwheel hard candies, plus more for garnish, if desired
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons American-style or Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted after measuring if lumpy
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
3 or 4 drops oil of peppermint, optional
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose white flour
1/2 cup (ounces) chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square pan with a sheet of aluminum foil, allowing it to overhang slightly on two opposing sides.
Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until fluid. Add the chocolate and crushed candy and stir constantly until completely melted and smoothly incorporated. Immediately remove from the heat; stir in the sugar and cocoa powder until evenly incorporated. Set aside until cooled to barely warm, at least 10 minutes (if the mixture is too warm, it will cook the eggs).

Whisk the eggs, extract, oil of peppermint (if using) and salt into the cooled chocolate mixture until very smooth and glossy. Stir the flour into the mixture just until well blended. Turn out the batter into the foil-lined pan, spreading out until evenly thick all over. Then smooth out the top with the knife.

Bake, middle rack, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 24 to 28 minutes; if the pick comes out with wet batter clinging to it, continue several minutes longer, then check again. Continue, checking until just barely baked through. Immediately sprinkle some fine peppermint shards over top, if desired, then set the pan on a rack to cool completely.

For easiest cutting, refrigerate the brownies until chilled and firm. Lift them from the pan to a cutting board using the foil. Gently peel off and discard the foil. Trim away the edges all the way around, then cut the slab into thirds in one direction and quarters in the other direction to make 12 brownies. Or cut them as desired.

Other brownies you might like: Lowney's Classic Brownies, right.

Shauna Ahern's Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Brownies , left.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Baker's Dozen Things I Give Thanks For

I wish you all a Thanksgiving as beautiful and serene as the scene pictured here. I’ve come up with a baker’s dozen of big and little things I’m giving thanks for this year. Please take time to comment on what you are grateful for, too.

I'm very thankful:

> That my son and his family now live near enough that we can just hop in a car and drive to the Thanksgiving dinner. No TSA pat-downs or jammed airports for me this year!

> That when my exuberant little poodle ran away in the woods we found him before the foxes did.

> That my mother never minded me baking and messing up her kitchen.

> That nobody at our family Thanksgiving gathering will remind me of the cast of “Married with Children,” or “Jersey Shore.”

> That when I dropped my brand new I-phone it didn’t break. Also, that I haven’t lost it (at least not yet).

> That I had three grandparents who thought I was totally adorable.

> That I have two grandchildren I think are totally adorable.

> That I live in a country where women are allowed to read, write, and have opinions.

> That I have a loving companion I’ve shared a full, rich life with.

> That I found the key to the freezer door so I can stop having to tape it shut.

> That my worth as a person isn’t judged by the tidiness of my house.

> That I wasn’t among those landing at Plymouth, MA, on Nov. 11, 1620. Half the Pilgrims died of starvation, disease, or exposure that first winter, including nearly all the women.

> That I have a talented son to take wonderful pictures like the one above of autumn in Natick, MA, and who brings so much joy into his parent’s lives.

If you're still looking for some memorable holiday sweet treats, check out my easy, but delectable Pumpkin Bread Pudding or Cranberry-Cherry Crumb Bars.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Steamed Cranberry Pudding--Serve This When You Must Win Raves

For decades I made the family Thanksgiving dinner. Everybody else flew in to celebrate the holidays at my house. It started out as a labor of love, though as the decades rolled by it eventually seemed more labor as less love!

Now, since my son and his family moved back to Maryland a few years ago, I'm usually a guest. Often my job is just to bring the desserts, which means there's time to make a whole array of sweet treats if I like. (The one required dessert is a pecan pie; it can't be omitted from the menu no matter what!) This year a dessert I'm taking especially for my G-F daughter-in-law is a fruit crisp.

But the dessert here is perhaps my personal fave --a steamed cranberry pudding with a rich butter-orange sauce. The original recipe came from octogenarian Tom Darlington who passed it along a number of years ago, when I visited his family's historic Whitesbog, New Jersey, cranberry farm. The pudding was handed down through several generations, from his aunt Elizabeth White, he said, and was always on his family's Thanksgiving menu. (For more pics of the cranberry farm and more details on my visit, click here. Tom, the family's proud patriarch, is shown here several years before his death. His son, the fifth generation in the cranberry business, now runs the farm.)

It's no wonder this dessert was one of Tom's favorites. Besides calling for an abundance of fresh cranberries (which pleased him mightily!), it's exceptionally moist, fragrant, and tasty. I demonstrated the recipe at a baking class at King Arthur Flour a few years ago, and the students went wild for it. And both my hubby and I love it, too, (We are also great fans of my Nicely Spicy Cranberry-Pear Muffins or Cranberry-White Chocolate Cookies if you're interested in other cranberry options.)

Do not panic at the thought of making  a steamed pudding!  The technique is quite easy, and  it doesn't require an antique pudding mold. I use a modern Bundt pan simply covered with foil. Or for individual servings, I use pretty mini-Bundt pans or fancy metal ramekins.

Steamed Cranberry Pudding with Creamy Butter-Orange Sauce

The version of this recipe that Tom Darlington gave me is in my All-American Dessert Book. Often I double the pudding, so it fits a standard-size Bundt pan and serves a crowd. (And, if I'm lucky, provides a leftover slice or two for me to bring home.)

Don't even consider serving this pudding without the sauce; they are a pair. The pudding is light, only faintly sweet and studded with bright cranberries. The sauce is rich, sweet, and sumptuous and nicely counterbalances the zingy fruits. Both components can be made well ahead and rewarmed before serving, so are quite convenient for holiday dining. Though this dessert appears to be similar to the classic Christmas or plum puddings (which I personally find too heavy), it is much fresher-tasting and more appealing to modern diners.

Tip: If you have little individual serving-size molds, like the one shown here, steam them in a large roasting pan or several deep-sided skillets tented with foil. They will take about 45 to 55 minutes.

4 1/2 cups fresh (or frozen, partially thawed) cranberries, picked over, washed, patted dry, and coarsely chopped
Generous 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves and nutmeg
2/3 cup orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (orange part of skin)
1/2 cup light molasses
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Very generously grease (or coat with nonstick spray) a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan or similar decorative tube pan or large ring mold. Lightly dust the pan or mold with flour; tap out the excess. Set out a large, deep pot or kettle that is large enough to hold the tube pan or mold used. Lay a folded tea towel or quadruple thickness of paper towels in the pot bottom so the pot and tube pan will not come in direct contact.

In a medium, non-reactive bowl, stir together the cranberries and 7 tablespoons granulated sugar; set aside while the remaining ingredients are readied. Thoroughly stir together the remaining sugar, the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, stir together the orange juice and zest, and molasses, until well blended. Add the molasses mixture and the butter to the dry ingredients, stirring just until evenly incorporated throughout and the sugar just dissolves. Stir in the cranberries until evenly distributed throughout. Turn out the batter into the pan, spreading to the edges. Cover the top with aluminum foil.

Fill the steaming pot 1-inch deep with hot tap water. Set the Bundt pan in the pot. Cover the steaming pot with a lid or foil. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat so the water simmers very gently. Check the pot every half hour or so and replenish the water, if needed. Gently simmer the pudding 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 hours, until a wooden skewer inserted in the thickest part of the pudding comes out clean and it springs back when pressed with a fingertip; the time will vary considerably depending on the shape and composition of the pan used. Transfer the pudding to a cooling rack. Let stand until cooled and firmed up, at least 1 hour.Carefully run the tip of a table knife around the pan and center tube and under the pudding to loosen it completely; invert and slide it onto a plate.

Store the pudding covered airtight in plastic and refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat, covered with foil, in a low oven until slightly warm before serving. Serve the pudding on a cake plate or other attractive serving plate. Generously drizzle some warm sauce over the pudding before serving. Cut into slices and serve. Serve the remaining sauce in a pitcher or sauceboat so diners can add more of it as desired. Makes 8-10 servings.

For the sauce: In a large, heavy, non-reactive saucepan, thoroughly stir together 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, 1 1/3 cups heavy cream, 2 sticks softened unsalted butter, 1/4 cup light corn syrup, and 3/4 teaspoon orange zest. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar completely dissolves and the butter melts. Bring to a boil and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Reheat the sauce in a saucepan over low heat, stirring, (or in a microwave oven on 50 percent power) just until the mixture is fluid, creamy, and piping hot again.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Make Cranberry-Cherry Crumb Bars: Keep Some Berries from Coming to a Bad End

I could try to entice you make these these cranberry crumb bars by reminding you how the native Americans introduced the early Colonists to cranberries, so they're a big part of our culinary heritage. I could also tell you the Pilgrims ate cranberry sauce at the "first Thanksgiving," though in fact this would be a lie, because they had no sugar, and nobody would have given thanks for consuming cranberries "straight." (They should have eaten the berries though, because most of the group had scurvy, and the tart, vitamin C-rich fruits would have helped cure it.)

But there's a more compelling and urgent reason to eat cranberries, which I learned when I visited a Whitesbog, New Jersey, commercial cranberry bog (shown in the pics below) a few years ago. America's cranberry farmers are getting better and better at producing large crops, and we consumers really need to pitch in and eat up the slack.

The last couple years the cranberry industry produced the biggest yields ever--over 7 million 100-pound barrels annually. What with about 50,000 berries per barrel, we've got a lot of consuming to do. And if we don't step up to the task every fall, the consequences are dire: Those beauties will just sit there in the bogs and rot.

It's true! That was exactly what did happen a few years ago. The market was so glutted, the USDA ordered the nation's cranberries growers to leave about 30 percent of their crops to come to a bad end in the bogs.

So make these bars! Or maybe my Cranberry-White Chocolate Cookies. Or how about my Nicely Spicy Cranberry-Pear Muffins. Or at least crack a can cranberry sauce or serve up some cranberry cocktail juice this fall. Help save some berries from a watery grave!

Easy Cranberry-Cherry Crumb Bars

To keep things simple, this recipe calls for dividing the crumb mixture in half, then using one portion for the bottom crust and the second for the streusel on top.

When served warm with a scoop of ice cream or dollop of whipped cream, these wonderfully fruity, buttery bars make a great a holiday dessert. But once they're cooled thoroughly, the bars firm up and become crispy-chewy instead of crumbly, so they can also be cut into very small squares and served as cookies.

1 cup dried sweetened cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped, fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sour cherry jam (chopped, if lumpy)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Crumb Mixture
1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 11- by 7-inch (2-quart) flat baking dish with nonstick spray.

For filling: Combine dried and fresh cranberries, jam, butter, and cinnamon in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover loosely with wax paper, and microwave on high power until mixture begins to bubble. Set aside. (Alternatively, combine cranberries, jam, butter, and cinnamon in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.)

For crumb mixture: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, oats, sugar, and salt. Add butter, stirring until mixture is well blended and crumbly. Firmly press a scant half of mixture into baking dish, forming an even layer. (Reserve remainder for topping.) Bake in upper third of oven for 12 minutes; layer will not be browned. Using a table knife, evenly spread cranberry-cherry mixture over crumb layer. Stir a teaspoon or two water into remainder of crumb mixture so it just begins to clump. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the filling, patting it down lightly,

Bake in upper third of oven for 25-30 minutes or until the topping is nicely browned and crisp and fruit is bubbly. Transfer pan to a wire rack. Let stand until cooled to warm. If desired, trim off and discard over-browned edges all the way around using a large, sharp knife. Bars may be served warm as individual desserts or at room temperature as cookies.

Makes 8 to 10 dessert-sized servings or 24 to 30 cookie-size servings.
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Supermarket Daze

In the same way my computer automatically slips into sleep mode to save power during off hours, my brain automatically switches into stupor mode whenever I pick up a pencil to write a grocery list. All reasoning and memory functions shut down, perhaps in a misguided effort to spare me from suffering the ordeal ahead.

If I put the list down beside my purse, I’ll leave it home. If I lay it on top of my purse, I will absently pick it up, lay it aside and leave it home. Unless I cram it in my purse before the phone, doorbell, or oven timer interrupts me, I won’t find the list again for three days. After which time, due to scribbly handwriting, I won’t be able to read it anyway.

Getting the plastic shopping sacks from my house back to the store recycle bin is a huge challenge, too. Even though the bags go right in the front passenger seat of the car where I can’t miss ‘em, I’ll invariably hop out and zip into the market sans sacks. Sometimes I drive around with a mile-high pile of bags for weeks.

My dazed, doomed feeling always heightens once I hit the store’s automatic doors. I think it’s because my supermarket follows the musical chairs method of merchandise placement. About every two months, just as I’m beginning to acclimate to the last go round, they methodically move all 46,000 products (I read that the average store stocks this number) somewhere else. And they’re really creative about choosing new places I’ll never think to look. Lately, the management has pretended to be helpful by handing out store maps to facilitate customer re-orientation, but, I’ve realized that whatever I specifically need is never on the sheet.

On a recent trip I discovered that the canned green chilies had migrated from their customary place next to cans of tomatoes with green chilies to a new home in International Foods. This did make some sense, except that they were over by the diced pimentos and canned artichokes, not with the salsas or refried beans. Worst of all, the brand of chilies I liked best (just like every other food product I’ve ever develop a great fondness for) had been discontinued.

I was also flummoxed by the disappearance of the most economical brand of light bulbs from the usual house wares shelf to a distant, dimly illuminated corner of the store. Perhaps some symbolic “green” message was intended by sticking them there—like, “Do you really need these? Or perhaps, “Dark is good!?”

I’m already girding myself for another round of the “find-the-stuffing” game the store played this time last year. For several months in the fall, the bread cubes and bags of stuffing claimed space, logically enough, near their “parents,” whole loaves of bread. Then, as Thanksgiving neared, they inexplicably turned up near the canned soup—perhaps somebody had suddenly pronounced them “croutons?”

Finally, when I frantically rushed in to the soup aisle the day before the holiday, my heart sank to see the stuffing was … GONE again. A clerk pointed me to a display near the frozen turkeys—very convenient for last-minute shoppers grabbing a bird that couldn’t possibly thaw or be stuffed in time for Thanksgiving.

I’ve read that grocery chains actually spend big bucks to research consumer habits, and that some even utilize shopping cart tracking devices to follow customers’ paths around stores. This has revealed that people often proceed in a haphazard, random fashion, advancing only partway down some aisles, skipping others, and backtracking and bouncing all around the store. Well, duh! If you constantly churn your merchandise, folks are going to wander around confusedly searching for stuff.

Supermarket research has also uncovered a less obvious, even startling fact: Customers purchase more per shopping trip if the background music is up tempo and in a major key. (Perhaps minor keys and slow tunes make us bummed and lethargic?). Now I know why they keep playing “Over the River and Through the Woods,” and “Just Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingle-ing” this time of year, maybe I should invest in some earplugs. Let me put them on my list….

Readers: If you, too, have the feeling your supermarket conspires against you, please feel free to share your tales. I’m especially eager for your comments on the peculiar and confusing merchandice placements you’ve observed.

If you're looking for other stories that aim to make you smile, check out Everything I Don't Like & Nothing That I Do Like or "You Did WHAT to My Recipe?

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Protecting Your Culinary Writing from Plagiarism—A Modest Proposal

Almost every living food writer whose work is on the Internet (and maybe some dead ones raised by the ruckus) now knows that Cook’s Source, a for-profit publication, has been caught plagiarizing a story from a writer named Monica Gaudio.

Here’s a recap in case you’re just back from Mars: Noting her “three decades” in the business, Judith Griggs, managing editor of Cook's Source, responded last week to Gaudio's complaint about her material being used without permission or payment. The editor’s e-mail was insulting, provocative, and laughably inappropriate; it may in fact endlessly travel the Internet as the most astonishing written example of hubris ever! Among other things, Griggs said:

…. But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me... ALWAYS for free!"

What you may not have heard yet is the second, more important chapter of the story: Cook’s Source had been treating all material—text, recipes, and photos—posted on the web as “public domain,” for some time. A well-researched piece posted by Ed Champion, The Cook’s Source Scandal: How a Magazine Profits on Theft, uncovered that Cook’s Source has plagiarized from so many places that I almost feel lacking to find myself left out. Besides Gaudio, the Food Network website, the Simply Recipes, and Behind the Curtain websites, and author Linda Stradley have all had their intellectual property “borrowed” by Cook’s Source. I’m betting more victims will emerge. I’m also betting that this sort of thievery is fairly common.

This has started me thinking about what steps, besides depending on the old copyright symbol, I might take to protect my work (and bottom line). Like many writers, I already receive daily Google alert hits on my name, book titles, and other key topics. (You already utilize this free feature, don’t you?) But now I’m going to devote a half-hour each week to running some easy-to-use anti-plagiarism software as well. (If I had a staff, I’d delegate the task and search more extensively—as I hope those with big, better-known sites already do.)

I plan to begin with my oldest stories posted and concentrate on features containing not only text but recipes and photos. As veteran food bloggers already know, these packages are particularly juicy targets because they take not only lots of time to produce, but money to test the recipe and make a photogenic version, plus more money and time to buy props, style, shoot, and photoshop the image.

I’ve already found four anti-plagiarism tools to employ—no doubt there are numerous other handy ones, too. The first, called copyscape, checks for any matches to material on your URL that might be out there on the Internet. I gather that teachers and professors have been using the next two tools, both text checkers, to help keep students honest for years. (These will be handy for those without their own dedicated site.) The third, a photo checker, is new but looks promising, especially if your site is heavily trafficked and is known for great pics. (If your shots usually just illustrate recipes, you’ll probably have better luck merely hunting for the recipe text they accompany.) My thanks go to Casey at www.goodfoodstories for putting me on to this great free anti-plagiarism software. Just paste in your URL, and copyscape will go off and search the blogosphere for matches to your content. Seems like any website owner who worries about being ripped off should use this periodically. Copyscape even has banners and notices you can paste on your site announcing that your material is protected by this software to ward off thieves. searches of a full article or large chunks of text this simple, but powerful checker works well. I pasted in a recipe for my High Summer Blackberry-Plum Sorbet. Within seconds, the search hits directed me back to my blog post, as well as to another site hosted by a pastry chef blogger. The author had definitely not copied any of my material, but did happen to use some similar directions and ingredients—obviously, these had triggered the checker’s hit. The “match” strongly suggests that this checker will find even text altered to cover a "borrower's" tracks. software lets you check excerpts of up to 32 words just by entering them into a small field. (It will automatically lop off extra words, so you don’t need to count them.) It then searches the web and alerts you with a list of potential matches to follow up and evaluate for yourself. It provides the option of delivering in the form of regular Google alerts, if desired. The site also offers a beta version of a program allowing input of a whole URL to check, but it just generated error messages when I tried to do a search on mine—too bad! until recently the best advice for protecting photos (other than watermarking) seemed to be, if you don’t want ‘em plagiarized, don’t put ‘em on the Web—anywhere, ever! But now there’s some new, free software that does image searches, and it will likely become more and more effective as the database of pics grows. It’s easy to use; just upload your image and click “start.” (It didn’t find the image I tried.)

So what if the software does uncover instances of your work being used without permission? Try to (calmly) contact the site rep to find out the story right away. I say calmly because last year when a Google alert led me to one of my food features appearing under another person’s by-line, I discovered that the editor had purchased the rights to use my piece from a third party. Unlike Judith Griggs, this editor was quite chagrined and apologetic. So was the third party, a client who claimed my story was inadvertently bundled with some material her organization did have the right to sell.

One last suggestion: If you find yourself in Monica Guadio’s position, likewise consider putting out the word to your content-provider colleagues so they can see if they’ve been victimized, too. Such sharing of info can help ensure that at least the sites that make their living by routinely plagiarizing material are quickly outed and meet the fate of Cook’s Source.

PS: Two links you may want to check out for different takes and useful info; the second article was written by Elise Bauer, whose site, Simply Recipes, coincidentally, was a Cook's Source victim:

PPS: Assuming this story hasn't turned you off from working with food editors forever, you may find the following feature of interest.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Kids' Cookie Baking and Decorating Party

I shared one of those wonderful family bonding experiences last weekend when my sister and her granddaughter and my granddaughter and I all gathered to bake and decorate Halloween cookies in my kitchen.

The little girls, three and seven, don’t get to see one another too often and it’s usually noisy and hectic when the entire family gathers, but this time they got to spend a quiet afternoon just having fun one-on-one. Like most kids, they also like both cookies and craft projects, so they greatly enjoyed selecting their cutters and turning out the shapes they particularly wanted. (Meanwhile, both sets of parents were off having their own outing at the U. of Maryland homecoming football game—a different but equally important bonding experience!)

The girls also got to help mix the array of colored powdered sugar icings, and as the pics show, enjoyed painting and adding sugar sprinkles to their masterpieces. Even though Sophie, my sister’s granddaughter, hadn’t frosted cookies before, she had used paints and brushes in nursery school, so was able to dab on the icing paints easily. She also watched what her older, more decorating-savvy cousin, Lizzie did, and quickly caught on to the idea of making the pumpkin stems green and the round parts orange, and adding dark icing blobs to give the ghosts eyes. 

Though both girls were eager to sample the cookies, they were satisfied when we limited them to two apiece. We packed up some of the extras for them to take home and share with their families. We ended the afternoon with a lovely walk in the woods followed by a rest in a pile of leaves.

My sister and I both had a ball “facilitating” the cookie crafting afternoon. It really was magical to see that Gramma and Nana were providing such a special time for the kids we love. I suspect that we’ll treasure it as long as the children. I’m also thinking it’s going to become a family holiday tradition—cookies are also appropriate for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Easter and.... (To see some pretty painted autumn cookies I decorated, click here.)  For the best, easiest way to roll out cookie dough, check out the quick video here.)

In case you’d like to duplicate this experience with your favorite kids, here are some of the logistical details that will help things go smoothly:

>Make your cookie dough completely ahead, divide it into three or four portions, then roll each one out between sheets of baking parchment or wax paper. Check out my All-Purpose Sugar Cookie Dough, if you need a good recipe.
>Let the sheets of dough chill on a baking sheet in the refrigerator until you need them, then take them out one by one as you need them.
>Make a large batch of icing that can be divided up and tinted 5 or 6 different colors. I used 1 box of confectioners sugar combined with 1 teaspoon light corn syrup, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and enough water to produce a spreadable consistency. I added the drops of color to each portion, then let the kids finish the mixing.
>Have at least one clean small paint brush for each bowl of icing. Otherwise, the children will be temped to dip the same brush into different colors and the paints will end up all mixed together and muddy-looking. (Lacking paint brushes, small table knives might work, especially for older kids)
>Offer several colored decorating sugars so the kids can add an easy finishing touch.
>Lay out a sheet of baking parchment or wax paper for each child to work on—this will make cleanup easier.
> Whenever the kids start fidgeting or growing tired, simply wrap up the activity while they are still enjoying themselves. After all, they don’t have to make all the cookies. You can refrigerate the leftover dough; cover the icings with plastic; and finish up later on.
Most important, either grow extra hands, or have at least two grownups (or maybe one adult and an older child) involved: one can help the kids cut out and transfer the cookies to baking sheets while the other supervises the baking, fetching, re-rolling and other tasks. I have a feeling that for one person this activity might be more frantic than fun!
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