Category: In the Kitchen

Roasted chickpeas: Just think of them as bean croutons…

There are just times in your life when you go on a salad kick. I’m on one of those right now, and truth be told, it’s the kickin’est salad kick I’ve ever been on. It’s lasted a few weeks now and shows no sign of letting up.

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I guess I shouldn’t make it sound as though every day I make myself lunch and find myself looking down at my plate saying “Oh, look, salad again! I really can’t seem to get out of this rut.” In actuality, I’m making a conscious choice to eat salad every day. Part of it is a desire to get rid of some seminary squishiness which has found its way onto my body via hundreds of nights sitting like a lump for hours, memorizing flashcards or writing papers. Part of it is just because salad is awesome. But it is intentional. I’ve made it my new “thing” — and everyone should treat themselves to a new “thing” once in a while — to have salad once a day. I’ll tell you one thing, it makes figuring out what I’m going to eat on a given day so much easier.

It also forces me to think of new and cool things that would look good lounging on a bed of greens, because as much as I could eat a salad of spring greens, dried cherries, walnuts, goat cheese and a lemony vinaigrette EVERY SINGLE DAY, I just have to branch out. For myself. For posterity. So I won’t get bored. Well actually …………. no, it’s simply because I’ve eaten all the goat cheese and it’s all gone and I’m very sad about it. (Just being honest here… the only really valid reason not to eat goat cheese is that there is no goat cheese.)

So here, in the category of “salad topper / goat cheese replacement” is a pretty tasty idea … roasted chickpeas. It certainly is not original. I was inspired by Smitten Kitchen (which these days, with her cookbook on my shelf, I almost always am). Roasting chickpeas is a cool idea because you only ever eat chickpeas in hummus, right? When was the last time you ate a chickpea that wasn’t all pureed and tahini’d up? I know right? It’s always nice to see an ingredient in a different light … especially when it is almost always eaten the same way. Also, chickpeas take well to roasting. They get crisp on the outside while staying soft inside, and they pick up spices like little sponges. Crunchy ones. They’re sort of like bean croutons. Yeah, that has a definite ring to it …… not. (Although, Tom Haverford at least might go for this nomenclature.)

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Roasted Chickpeas

1 can (15 oz) chickpeas*
1 Tblsp olive oil
Coarse-ground salt and pepper
A dash each of cumin, garlic, and/or any other spices you prefer (Indian ones would be great)
A little fresh squeezed lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drain and rinse chickpeas, and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Spread out on a pan. Add olive oil and toss to coat. Then add the salt, pepper and spices — as much as you like.

Roast for 10-15 minutes, turning the chickpeas once halfway through the cooking time, until crisp and golden. You’ll definitely need to taste-test them to tell if they’ve reached your preferred level of crispiness. But once they’re there …. well, you’ll just know. Remove from the oven and squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over them. Eat as a snack or toss ’em on a salad. Enjoy!

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*Or garbanzo beans; both names refer to the same thing. I just prefer to say chickpeas, because if I say garbanzo beans, I can’t help but stretch it out so it sounds like “gaaarrrbaaaaaaannnnzooooo beeeeaaanzzzzz.” It’s just that kind of word. So, unless you enjoy being stared at in the grocery store, better to stick with “chickpeas.” It’s safer that way.

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Caramelized onion & goat cheese panini with balsamic drizzle

This post is for all you onion enthusiasts out there. Not for the ones who like their onions raw and crunchy and full of bite. But for those who like their onions caramelized and meltingly soft, sweeter than you could ever imagine an onion could be.

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My friend Tessa and I have started a nerds’ cooking club … a club for total food nerds. Members: 2. Every few weeks she and I brainstorm an impossibly delicious recipe and gather ingredients. She comes over and we whip something up in my tiny apartment kitchen, then sit down and eat it, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, usually while planning what we want to make next time. This week, we were thinking about doing french onion soup but decided against it when I dreamed up this idea for a french-onion-soup-inspired panini. As it turned out, the panini didn’t end up tasting anything at all like french onion soup, but it just might be 1,000 times better.

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The reasons why this panini is so delicious are many. One of the most significant reasons definitely has to be the goat cheese. Because one of the deep truths that governs our universe is that nothing made with goat cheese could ever be bad. The goat cheese redeems anything. But in this case, the sandwich is already good, and the goat cheese just takes it to a whole new level of awesome. Another great thing about this is the onions (of course!). Using a combination of sweet yellow and tangy red onions makes it much more interesting … plus red onions are insanely delicious caramelized.

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Besides that, this panini has a lot of great contrasts. Crunchy bread and soft filling. Sweet onions and tangy cheese. And a drizzle of balsamic syrup that blends in just enough and stands out just enough. Also, it’s a really easy panini to make since it only has a few ingredients. Bread. Onions. Goat cheese. Balsamic vinegar. That’s about it.

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Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Panini with Balsamic Drizzle (this will make about 4 sandwiches, but it depends on how much onion you put on each!)

Good sliced bread (We used French and foccaccia; use whatever you like)
A little butter
1 red onion
1 yellow onion
Olive oil, salt, & pepper
Balsamic vinegar (about 1/3 cup should be enough)
Plain goat cheese (chevre)

1. Thinly slice the onions and put them in a pan with olive oil, salt, & pepper. Cook over low to medium heat, turning/stirring from time to time, letting the onions slowly cook. Watch them so they don’t burn — but they should turn a beautiful golden-brown and soften while still holding their shape. The best way to know if they are done to perfection is to taste them! Just don’t eat the whole pan before you can get them onto a slice of bread. Be patient … it will be worth it. :)

2. Meanwhile, butter the outsides of the slices of bread. Preheat your panini press.

3. Also meanwhile, heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat with the lid off. All you are doing is getting it to simmer and evaporate so it will thicken. Once it’s reduced to about half, take it off the heat. Don’t let it get to the point of getting syrupy, because it thickens a lot once it cools. It may seem to runny when you take it off the heat, but once it cools it will be perfectly drizzle-able.

4. Spread a thick layer of goat cheese on one side of a slice of bread (the other side should be buttered). Top with a generous pile of caramelized onions and drizzle with balsamic syrup. Top with another slice of bread, buttered side out. Repeat to make 4 or so paninis. Cook on the panini press until browned and crisp. Enjoy!

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Easy Caprese-y

It’s like a magic trick! You know by now that I love me some caprese salad. And this has all the deliciousness of a caprese salad, turned hot and melty and conveniently mounted on a slab of carbohydrate for the most efficient conveyance to the mouth. In other words ….. pretty delicious comfort food.

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To make two personal-sized caprese pizzas, this is what you need:

2 pieces of naan (I used 1 package of the Stonefire brand, from the grocery store)
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
About 6 oz. FRESH mozzarella, thinly sliced
A few fresh basil leaves
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Coarse-ground salt & pepper

Better preheat the oven now, cause this thing does not take long to make. (Which is half of its charm.)

1. Whip out your naan.

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2. Brush it with olive oil and grind pepper over it (plus a sprinkling of dried herbs if you want).

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3. Arrange tomato and mozzarella slices on top.

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4. Hmm, it needs something …. oh yeah, basil leaves! Tuck a few in the nooks and crannies.

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5. Sprinkle some coarse salt lightly over the top, and put the cute little baby pizzas on a tray. It’s oven time. (Did you turn the oven on yet? It should be on broil.)

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6. Cook those pizzas. I started out by baking them at 400 degrees for a few minutes until the cheese was partially melted, then I turned the oven on to broil, moved them closer to the top, and cooked until the cheese began to blister. But I don’t know if the baking step was really necessary. Which is why I’m recommending you probably just broil them (500 degrees, close to the coil, and keep an eye on them). They should turn out just fine.

Here they are, about halfway done —

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7. Meanwhile, make yerself some balsamic reduction. For drizzling purposes. I never read up or studied on how to do this, nor had I ever done this before, so please don’t take this as some expert advice or anything or start mocking my technique in the comments. Technique? There is no technique! :-) I just put 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, nothing else, into a small saucepan and heated it over low to medium heat, whisking pretty much constantly, until it reduced by about half, and got thick and syrupy. It was pretty ridiculous how easy it was, considering how snooty-sounding “balsamic reduction” comes across.

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8. You’re still watching the pizzas, right? Brush them with olive oil if the basil leaves start to shrivel from the heat. Gratuitous food close-up: The basil leaves were starting to turn into mini-basil-leaf chips, but the olive oil took care of that reeeeal quick.

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9. Once everything is hot and bubbly to your liking, take out of the oven and drizzle with your awesome balsamic syrup stuff.

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10. EAT! I know you’re going to love it.

Blueberry-blackberry crisp and other things

So let’s start with a picture of me in a dress. The dress is blue, so it fits with the post topic, right?

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Wow, what a week-and-a-half it has been, folks. I started back to school January 15th (last Tuesday) and the semester got off to a BANG when I was assigned two papers to write in one week. I am not a fast thinker or writer, by any means, and for one of the papers, the content was completely new to me — New Testament textual criticism. I went from knowing nothing about it whatsoever, to having a completed analytical 10-page paper completed, in one week. The day after that paper was due another paper (on theology) was due. Let’s just say … I didn’t go to bed before 2 or 3 AM for several nights. And coffee is my friend.

Even though the whole week was pretty rough, Ben and I did carve out a few hours on Saturday night to go on a hot date. Going on hot dates is not something we do very often. It’s not like we don’t spend time together. Let’s see, we work together, go to school together, and do pretty much everything else together. And sure, we go get lunch or dinner or go to a movie or go shopping fairly often. But rarely do we get all dressed up and go to some big-deal event. So it’s pretty special when we do. This time we went to the Virginia Symphony. Chloe Hanslip, a British violinist, was playing the Korngold violin concerto. It was a great concert, and afterwards we went to Cheesecake Factory and got apps and zerts (thank you, Tom Haverford, for making this term part of the English language – at least unofficially. I’ll see you at Rent-a-Swag sometime).

It was a super fun night. We were all dressed up (see picture above — I don’t wear floor-length one-shoulder gowns every day!) and feeling like the hottest couple in town, eating huge slabs of cheesecake and bantering like nobody’s business. I think we were out until almost 1 AM.

Then came a few days of madness while I tried to get those papers done, and I turned everything in on Tuesday/Wednesday (either very, very late on Tuesday night or very, very early on Wednesday morning, however you want to look at it). I didn’t have anything due yesterday (Wednesday), so it was like the best day of my LIFE. I slept in. Flipped through an enormous stack of cookbooks I got at the library. And spent a few relaxing hours in the kitchen, cooking up sesame chicken for dinner, as well as this delicious thing.

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So here’s how this works. I’ve been wanting to make a blueberry crisp for a long time. Not just a blueberry crisp though; I was thinking of mixing blueberries and cranberries for an awesome sweet-tart twist. When I went to the grocery store, though, they told me there wouldn’t be fresh cranberries available until next fall. Ugh! So I picked up some blackberries instead. Wow, you know what I never really realized before? BLACKBERRIES ARE DELICIOUS.

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I was so excited to make this. Seriously, for weeks I had been thinking about a crisp made with tons of juicy berries and a twist of lemon. And yes, I am obsessed with food and it’s a miracle I don’t weigh 400 pounds (especially considering I never ever work out – ha).

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The recipe is from Martha Stewart. Even though I pretty much think the whole Martha Stewart regime is kind of way-too-perfect and ridiculous (I mean if I had tons of money, five or six houses, hundreds of talented staff, and a kick-butt jadeite collection, I would be awesome too) …. but Martha Stewart recipes are just really good. Just FYI the original recipe is just for a blueberry crisp, so you make it with 6 cups of blueberries or mix it up with different kinds of berries like I did.

Here’s the recipe with my alterations:

BLUEBERRY-BLACKBERRY CRISP

Filling:

4 cups blueberries (I used frozen)
2 cups blackberries (or other fruit, use your imagination…)
Scant 1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest (eyeball it — I used the zest of about half the lemon)
1/4 tsp coarse-ground salt

Topping:

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled (old-fashioned) oats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse-ground salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine filling ingredients. Transfer to a greased 8-inch-square baking dish.

For the topping, cream the softened butter and 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl until fluffy. (Use a mixer if you want, but I didn’t.) Now, to save on dishes I did the next part in the same bowl, but you can use a separate bowl if you prefer. Measure the flour, oats, baking powder and salt into the bowl on top of the creamed butter and sugar, stir gently just to combine the dry ingredients that are resting on top of the butter/sugar mixture, then stir down to the bottom to roughly combine everything. Now — this is the fun/messy part — use your hands to squeeze the topping mixture into lots of clumps. Really go to town on those clumpy-umps. It should be mostly clumps because you know those are the best part.

Sprinkle topping over filling. Bake until nicely browned on top and bubbling throughout, 1 hour. I had to loosely cover it with foil for the last 15 minutes or so to prevent overbrowning, so keep an eye out for that. Cool on a wire rack before serving. Best served slightly warm (duh) with vanilla ice cream (double duh)!!

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(As you can see from the picture, it might need some more cornstarch because it’s on the juicy side of things. I actually already increased the cornstarch amount, and the filling does hold together pretty nicely, but it leaves a puddle of juice in the bottom of the pan.)

Guys, this stuff is SO GOOD. Probably the best crisp I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve tasted a lot. I can’t wait to gobble up the rest of it. It’s really easy and makes a good amount, so I think it would be great for when people come over. Unless they don’t like blueberries. Which would be very silly of them. Blueberries are awesome!

How to make challah

Today I’m gonna show you how to make really good bread. But first, let’s dispense with a few disclaimers.

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Disclaimer #1: Challah is a Jewish thing. And I’m not Jewish. So if you’re looking for authenticity, better go somewhere else.

Disclaimer #2: I have not tasted this bread in, oh probably over 10 years. I’ve made it many times, but I always give it away as gifts. People LOVE it and request it for Christmas. Some people have even payed for it. So I’m pretty sure it’s delicious, but I don’t actually know — it could be awful. But what am I supposed to do? Make a loaf for someone’s birthday and take a big bite out of it?

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Like many yeast breads, it take a while to make. The time involved to braid the loaves makes it a lengthier process, but the dough is very easy to work with, and it’s all worth it in the end. The recipe given here makes 4 loaves, but you can easily cut it in half to only make 2 loaves — that will speed up the process.

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I think baking bread is perfect for a day when you’re going to be home anyway. Maybe a Saturday, or one of those catch-up days that you get like once a year (or at least it feels like they’re that rare) when you stay at home and clean things that haven’t been cleaned in too long, and inevitably fall asleep on the couch for a half-hour afternoon nap. If you’re going to be home anyway, it isn’t much trouble to take a break from what you’re doing every couple of hours to punch down dough or put on an egg wash. And it makes the house smell SO GOOD.

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The best thing about baking — besides eating that awesome homemade bread — is that feeling of pride at creating something delicious and beautiful … and challah certainly won’t disappoint in that regard. It’s kind of amazing how pretty it turns out, actually. That’s why I always end up giving it all away, and why I haven’t had a taste of it in years. Because it’s so impressive looking, it just makes a really nice gift.

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Challah

2 pkg. active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 tsp sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup boiling water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup oil
¼ cup hone
1 Tbsp salt
8 eggs
10 cups all-purpose OR bread flour
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tsp water

1. Proof the yeast: In a large liquid measuring cup dissolve yeast in the warm water. Stir in the 2 tsp sugar and set in a warm place.

2. Place the margarine or butter in a large mixing bowl and add the boiling water. After the margarine melts, stir in ½ cup sugar, oil, honey and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition. Add the yeast mixture to the egg mixture. Beat in 5 cups of the flour (with electric mixer). Stir in 4 cups of the remaining flour.

3. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead, gradually working in the remaining 1 cup flour. Shape into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Cover and let stand in a warm place for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.

4. Turn the dough out onto a board. Divide the dough into 4 portions; divide each portion into 3 ropes. Braid to form 4 braided loaves. Place each loaf on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the egg yolk with 1 tsp water; brush over loaves. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. If necessary, cover the loaves with foil during the last 15 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning.

(Note: The original recipe called for the addition of raisins after the first rising … and a sprinkling of poppy seeds on top of the loaves right before baking. I’ve never done either of those things and think it’s just fine without them.)

Enjoy! :-)

Happy Thanksgiving! (and the day after)

I’m taking a couple of days off from my CRAZY life for Thanksgiving break. Just in time because I really needed a break — life has been nuts. Well played Mr. Turkey. I needed this.

My family is all gathered together in Minnesota, and of course I’m not there — which is a little sad, but okay, because I will be there for Christmas in one month! And one of my favorite things about being a Jacob is Ben’s family’s tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s not just one powerful meal on a Thursday afternoon. They make a big deal out of it. They rent a beach house in Virginia Beach and the whole family hangs out there for much of Thanksgiving week. It’s a lot of fun and you end up spending a lot more quality time together when you’re all together in one house for a few days. :)

It’s lovely to be at the beach. The past few days have been overcast, but today is sunny. No matter what the weather, though, it’s fun to watch the huge waves crashing on the shore.

Yesterday (on Thanksgiving Day) of course most of the day was spent making the huge meal. After that we always watch Elf. Best movie ever.

I think I might like the day after Thanksgiving even better than Thanksgiving itself. And no, not because it’s Black Friday. I don’t usually go shopping, and if I do, it’s in the afternoon once all the crazies have gone back home. ;-) I love how relaxing Thanksgiving is, and I don’t want to spoil it with a hectic and potentially dangerous trample-fest. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad — I wouldn’t know — but I’m just not interested.

What AM I interested in, then? One word: baking. During the week we have been at the beach house I have made cookies, homemade pretzels, pumpkin pie, apple pie bars, and just this morning, caramel rolls. Among other things. I don’t know what it is, but anytime I have a minute these days I just want to bake something delicious and feed it to appreciative people. Which the Jacobs are. The caramel rolls this morning turned out delicious … even though I used refrigerated dough because I was out of flour.

Want to make some? You’ll need 2 cans refrigerated breadstick dough, lots of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and heavy cream.

Grease 2 round pans and preheat the oven to 375.

To make really easy homemade caramel sauce: In a saucepan, combine 1 stick butter, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup heavy cream, and a pinch of salt. Heat over medium heat to boiling, watching and stirring it so it doesn’t stick or boil over. Remove from heat. Pour about 1/3 of the caramel sauce into one of the greased pans, another 1/3 into the other greased pan, and reserve the last 1/3 for drizzling on the rolls after they are done.

Open up the 2 cans of dough. For each can of dough, spread the whole piece out on the counter without separating it into pieces. Drizzle melted butter all over the dough and sprinkle with brown sugar and plenty of cinnamon. Roll up from the short end to make a log. Then use a knife (or dental floss) to cut into six rolls. Once you do this with both cans of dough you’ll have 12 rolls.

Put the rolls into the caramel-sauce-coated pans and stick those babies in the oven. Bake about 15 minutes — rolls will be browned and caramel sauce will be bubbly. Remove and let them sit for about 5 minutes to let the sauce thicken a bit. Then invert them onto a plate and drizzle with the rest of the caramel sauce. Serve to your grateful family. :-)

Happy Thanksgiving!

All photos taken by my talented brother-in-law Jonathan Jacob.

The best cookies!

My younger sister Naomie came to visit me during my fall break last week, and we had a lot of fun hanging out together.

One of the most fun things we did was make these cookies just like my grandma used to make.

They’re not like other cookies. They’re BETTER than other cookies. They’re SO GOOD. Seriously. Could I be any more passionate here? :-P

They’re easy to make too .. you just need these ingredients: Ritz crackers, peanut butter, chocolate, and round rainbow sprinkles.

For the chocolate, my grandma always used almond bark, but the grocery store didn’t have any, so we used Baker’s Semi-Sweet chocolate and it was just as good, maybe even better.

First you make a bunch of Ritz-cracker-and-peanut-butter sandwiches.

Then, you heat water in a double boiler (or a jerry-rigged bowl-and-pot apparatus works just fine too!) and melt the chocolate. You don’t need to add anything to it … just the chocolate, baby!

Then line a pan with wax paper, and start coating the peanut butter crackers in the chocolate and setting them on the wax paper.

Dip dip dip …. coat coat coat …

While the chocolate is still soft and melty, shake the sprinkles on top. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. YOU MUST HAVE SPRINKLES!!! It’s the law.

Yum!! Good grief, these look so good. By the way, Naomie took all these pictures — she did a way better job than I ever would have. I would hire her to take all my pictures, if I could.

Stick the cookies in the fridge to harden before you try to remove them from the pan.

Once the chocolate is firm, carefully remove them from the wax paper and store them in an airtight container. (I used the same one my grandma used to put cookies in, which makes me happy!)

They’re the perfect combination of salty & sweet, chocolate & peanut butter, melty and crunchy … and the sprinkles make them cute.

I ate the last one yesterday, so they’re all gone now. *sigh* But I think I might make them for Christmas, with red and green sprinkles on top! Want some? You know you do. :)