Cookies and Cooking Blogs

When I was growing up, I had a Mom who worked part-time as a nurse. Part-time meant she often worked late shifts or weekends. What that meant for me as a self-focused and hungry child, as children are wont to be, is that Mom was often there when I walked home from school, and I was often lucky enough to smell from the backyard the wafting smell of fresh-baked cookies emanating from the kitchen. After our collie greeted me as though I was the prodigal daughter (though I had only left home that morning) I would sneak a few warm cookies off the cooling rack and avoid my homework. I could let it all hang out as I complained about the indignities of  school and always found a comforting presence near Mom at the old yellow formica kitchen table as she rustled about making dinner. The cookies were simple, delicious, and wholesome. Mom often slipped in healthy stuff like nuts, coconut, and wheat germ. They were delicious, and cookies are still one of my favorite treats. Handheld, individually portioned, creative and quick for the cook, cookies are still “It.” I was touched when I read the foreword to Thomas Keller’s “Bouchon” bakery book, which at its beginning, weaves a beautiful story of his hardworking single mother and the role of cookies in their family and pantry. He shared a recipe for homemade pecan sandies which were luscious. Keller’s story, full of respect and admiration for his Mom, brings to mind the old saw about how a man treats his mother is how he will treat you. So ladies, look for a man who is kind, thoughtful, and considerate to his mother. If not, RUN in the opposite direction!

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On another note, the cooking blog has proven far more challenging than I anticipated. When I cook, I am in action- it is all focus, physicality, timing, and attention. Writing is more introspective and dream-like, creating an altered consciousness. So far, merging my cooking, photography and writing styles has not felt natural or easy. I have work to do, and it’s not as easy as it looks!
So, as the summer winds down, and I am left remembering grilled chicken, zucchini, onion, and tomato frittata, summer soups, Midwestern potato salad, and clam chowder consumed at the beach with briny air being the best accompaniment, none of which I have a photographic record of, but fond and happy memories thereof. I wish us all a subtle transition into autumnal abundance, when the sun sets earlier, the nights grow chillier, and our kitchens turn again into hearths, the center of our homes, and gatherer of family and friends.

Pecan Sandies

Hands-on time 20 min. Total 45 min.

Makes 1 1/2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour (250 grams)

¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans (80 grams)

¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (170 grams)

¾ cup plus 2 tsp. powdered sugar (90 grams)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Toss together flour and pecans in a medium bowl.

2. Beat butter at medium-low speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Add powdered sugar, and beat 2 minutes or until fluffy, stopping to scrape bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture, and beat at low speed 30 seconds or just until combined.

3. Shape dough into 2-inch balls; place 1 ½ inches apart on 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Flatten each ball into a disk.

4. Bake at 350° for 22 to 25 minutes or until light golden, placing 1 baking sheet on oven rack one-third down from top and 1 baking sheet on oven rack one-third up from bottom.

5. Cool on baking sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely (about 15 minutes). Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook.

Midwestern “Cobb” Salad

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My Midwestern take on the famed Cobb Salad is a blend of the solid Plains I grew up on and a little of California’s visual verve- a redux of a Midwestern classic, the layered salad. Classic Cobb Salad contains bacon, chicken or turkey, diced tomatoes, avocado, blue cheese, and chopped hardboiled egg, all non-negotiable basic ingredients. The ingredients rest in stripes atop a bed of green chopped lettuce. Layered salad’s base is iceberg lettuce, practically the only lettuce I knew existed until I left the Midwest! In a classic layered salad all the ingredients are placed in layers over the lettuce, preferably in a glass bowl to show off the vibrant colors. Iceberg lettuce has gotten a bad rap lately, but it has quietly made a resurgence with wedge salads and is one of my favorite lettuces to this day, especially on burgers, sandwiches, shredded for tacos, and in this salad. This salad combines the visual appeal of a Cobb salad with the classic ingredients of a layered salad. The dressing is a creamy dairy-based recipe with a little sharpness from the onion that is a lovely complement to the salad. The salad can be assembled in about 15 minutes if you have already prepped hardboiled eggs and lettuce. It is great dinner option when the summer heat hits and you don’t want to turn on the oven. To wit:

Two heads of iceberg lettuce, washed, dried and cut into medium pieces

Two beefsteak tomatoes, diced

1 cup peas (frozen is fine)

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

4 hardboiled eggs, diced

5 strips bacon, cooked crisp and chopped into small pieces

Dressing:

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

salt and pepper

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp champagne vinegar

2 tsp grated onion

milk to thin to desired consistency

 

 

 

Banana Bread

I have been searching for something lately to take the edge off my sugar and carb cravings in the morning. If I was like my slender cajun cousins, whose father led the way,  eating cereal and ice cream in a large salad bowl while remaining achingly thin, I would begin the day with croissants and doughnuts, or perhaps one of the new pastries, a cronut, a diabolical doughnut made from  fried croissant dough. I could not in good conscience accompany my A.M greek yogurt and fruit with such an indulgence, and since it would immediately go to my posterior, I came up with “Plan B.”

Banana bread came to mind. I grew up enjoying my mother’s banana bread, made in a dark tin loaf pan but with half the sugar of the recipe (my mom didn’t believe in sugar, or too much of it at least). It was good, but not great (sorry, Mom!). My next choice was the Starbucks banana bread recipe I had copied and tucked in my recipe binder. For some reason the coffee behemoth oddly decided to print the recipe for their banana bread online for a brief while. The recipe makes an astonishingly good loaf of banana bread and is even loved by avowed banana bread haters. So, instead of a cronut, I enjoy a modest slice of this bread with my breakfast, content that I am eating bread and cake, but with fruit and nut goodness. My only secret? Not using overly ripe bananas, because I simply don’t like overly ripe bananas in smell or taste. THis is a quick two-bowl recipe, and I did cut the sugar from the original recipe. Mom, you are always right.

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Sort-Of Starbucks Banana Bread

2 c flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

2 tbsp buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

2-3 bananas mashed with a potato masher

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 deg.

Mix together dry ingredients; blend egg, oil, sugar, and oil until combined. Add dry ingredients; mix well and fold in mashed bananas

and 3/4 cup walnuts, reserving 1/4 cup for topping. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan (parchment paper/cooking spray) and bake for

one hour. Remove from pan and let cool to room temperature before serving.

 

 

You Can’t Always Get What You Want…But You Can Get What You Need

O, Onion Dip

Some things we eat are not noble. They are just astonishingly, lip-smacking good. Onion dip is one such item. Inspired from the packets of french onion dip mix and prepared dip eaten at gatherings, this retro-inspired dip purloined and adapted from Southern Living magazine is an admittedly guilty pleasure. Some virtuous people have been known dip raw vegetables in this concoction, others simply go for the classic standby, potato chips. It can be used as a salad dressing and bread spread. Image

 I have seen people swoon over this. Hide some in the back of the fridge for yourself when you make it. You can make it as tangy or creamy or oniony as you like. Just don’t try it with reduced fat sour cream and mayonnaise. I did once and it was the only time the onion dip remained uneaten. Caramelized onions are one of the best investments a cook can make. They are great on focaccia or pizza, and this dip. Make some today and keep on hand.

 

Informal Recipe:

caramelized onions: chop as many onions as you wish into dice. Put in a hot pan with oil and butter. Salt, pepper, and stir, tending to occasionally and keeping heat low enough so they don’t burn form the natural sugars. Add more oil as needed. Keep tending for 20-30 minutes. Caramelized onions like to be stirred occasionally, left alone, and on low heat. Kind of like some people.

Dip:

caramelized onions

mayonnaise

sour cream

buttermilk

chopped parsley

salt and pepper

1 part mayo, 2 parts sour cream, 1 part buttermilk is the dairy ratio I prefer in this recipe. Tangy but mellow. Perfect after blending but even better the next day after the flavors blend and the caramelized onion bathes in dairy goodness.

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Buns

The word certainly has different connotations depending on where you are from. Where I grew up, buns are soft, white, puffy…bread. A bun is not a slice of bread, it is your own, individual round with lots of golden crust and a tender interior. Buns are best the first day they are made, slightly warm with fresh unsalted butter, but I usually keep some in the freezer just in case. They make wonderful sandwich buns- meatloaf, or chicken salad are a beautiful complement to the tender, yielding crumb. Buns are a staple in my family, and though we aren’t in Midwest anymore, buns are the bread that brings us back to the wheat plains of Minnesota. My mother still talks about the ethereal yeast buns her Scandinavian grandma Cora made. I’ll never match Cora’s- no one could- but just as my grandma and mother made this version of buns, so do I. The recipe is my mother’s…but each bun-maker will add their own touch.I have made this recipe so many times that I always think I know it by heart…until I forget a key ingredient. So now I always look at this deceptively simple recipe before I start.

The Buns…Pre-Oven

The Buns…Pre-Oven

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IMG_1383 In a gluten-free, sugar-free, reduced sodium, and trans-fat policed nation, these white flour buns may be the most sinful carbohydrate to ever meet your mouth. Mmmm. Those Northlanders know what they’re doing.

1 1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. shortening
1 egg
2 tsp kosher salt
4 cups (approximately) flour
1 packet active dry yeast

Mix ingredients together as for a standard yeast bread; proof yeast in water. Mix to make a soft, pliant dough. Let proof covered for 2 hours.Form into buns, lightly rolling in flour if too sticky. Place on greased pan and let rise covered with saran wrap or tea towel until light finger imprint no longer remains on risen bun. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Apples And Sauce

I have a confession to make. I love simple food. The tastes I experienced as a child are still some of my favorite things to eat today.

When I was growing up, we went on a school field trip to a local apple orchard. I was so excited by the apple trees, sorting house, baskets of apples, and the apple cider we were given at the end of the tour, I convinced my parents to go to the orchard. And they did, and we brought apples and cider back home. The apples were turned into pies and the apples into homemade applesauce, peeled by hand and put into our giant aluminum stockpot also used for vegetable soup in the winter. A little sugar and spices, and we were enjoying the essence of autumn.

This week I had a spare hour and looked in the refrigerator. I saw a net bag of Granny Smith apples, unopened. I purchased them and planned to bring them for lunch.  A noble plan that never materialized. Along with a few odds and ends of Gala apples and miniature Pippins that would doubtless end up in the trash if I didn’t Do Something. I decided to make applesauce, and got out my fabulous Amish apple peeler which peels and cores apples in one magical fell swoop. This time I added apple cider to the sliced apples, to increase the apple goodness. In 45 minutes the apples and cider were transformed into a lovely mass of goodness. A few tablespoons of sugar, a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. I was back in the apple orchard with one bite.ImageImageImage

 

Cake And Bread

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When Marie Antoinette cried, “Let them eat cake,” it is said the French word she used was brioche, the pillowy, egg and butter-rich long-rising yeast dough traditionally made in a tinned and fluted brioche mold with a topknot of dough. This insult, telling her starving and displeased subjects to enjoy a luxurious hybrid between bread and cake, was a galling choice of words.

Speaking for myself bread and cake are two of my favorite things in life. This rustic baguette was made simply and quickly using a dough of:
¾ cup water
3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup graham wheat flour
3 Tbsp. rye flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp active dry yeast

My 10-minute secret: the bread machine’s dough only setting. Let technology do the hard work for you. When ready to form divide dough in two pieces; roll in baguette shapes, slash, and let rise covered in saran on an oiled pan for 30-40 minutes. Bake at 425 deg. For about 30 minutes.

Lemon cake…divine. Easter treat enjoyed by all.

What happened to the soup? …And Split Pea Memories

ImageupImageThe split pea soup was a success. It is a tried and true that I co-opted from my Mom’s Better Homes and Gardens vintage cookbook. My only change is to soak the peas in chicken broth and I add potato, diced. Oh, and I can’t find ham bones (or maybe I don’t want to) so I just add some nice ham steak. Oh yeah, and no marjoram. That sounds weird. I don’t like to write things down. I ate this all week for dinner, and it probably cost $4.00 to make a big pot of this soup

I first fell in love with split pea soup in  foggy, wet Ventura, Ca. one winter. I went to  a local restaurant practically every day for lunch and prayed this would be the soup of the day after first having it…it wasn’t often on the menu, but it was always served by an angry young man that resented his lot in life. I can’t blame him, but I remember him and the soup fondly. This is my effort to re-create it.

What happened to my chicken soup? That’s the beauty of poached chicken breasts. They became chicken salad, because I never made it to the grocery store to buy matzo meal for my matzo ball soup. Next time. I always promise myself!

 

Comfort

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In a world full of inauthenticity and Madison Avenue sales pitches, “More, better, bigger!” I’ve decided my soul is crying out for something genuine, solid, and real. There is something lovely about staying in your PJ’s on a Sunday and doing something in the kitchen. Today I’m longing for comfort. Exhausted by a weekend seminar class and the relentless presence of people, noise, and irritation at the world, I’ve decided to retreat into my cave and poach chicken breasts and make split pea soup. How far along I will proceed will be determined as the day goes on. Photos to follow.