Milk Chocolate Monster Cookies

milk chocolate monster cookies

You wouldn't know it from my recent posts about cookies and caramel corn, but we've actually been eating really well around here these days. Tons of veggies, lots of grains. My resolutions are holding up.

But yesterday I had an hour to kill between work and yoga, and ended up at the grocery store to get cookie ingredients "for the fire station." I did send some along, but there's plenty left for us. Lord, are they good. Very sweet, but that's the point, right? I kind of forgot about this recipe, so I'm reminding us. No flour, lots of peanut butter and oats, and so yielding when you bite into them.

I've felt really fragile lately, which might have something to do with wanting to make cookies. Have you ever had those days when you walk around noticing EVERYTHING? The car on the freeway with its hazards on, waiting for help. The child crying at the park because his friends have left him behind. The Facebook posts where you can just tell that the writer is lonely. In a funny way, these days help me be kinder to myself, too. The Inner Critic (damn her!) gets a little quieter, I check my email less, and decide to bake cookies with Loretta instead of plow through my to-do list. Wherever you are today, I hope you feel that Help is On the Way, whatever it is you need.

Milk Chocolate Monster Cookies
VERY IMPORTANT: Dough has to be refrigerated for 4-5 hours to firm up. I find it works well to make the dough the night before and bake them in the morning. The original recipe calls for M&M's. The kids go ape over that, but I'm not a big M&M fan. Certainly you can add whatever your heart desires to the basic dough. You'll get 4 dozen regular size cookies out of this recipe or 3 dozen big ones.

1/2 c. (1 cube) softened butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. + 2 Tb. packed brown sugar
3 eggs
2 c. peanut butter (I used Jif extra crunchy)
1/4 ts. vanilla
3/4 ts. light corn syrup (can’t leave this out)
4 1/2 c. oats
2 ts. baking soda
1/4 ts. salt
1 pkg. milk chocolate chips
1 c. toffee bits

Cream butter.  Gradually add sugars, beating well.  Add eggs, peanut butter, vanilla, and corn syrup; beat well. Add oats, soda and salt, stirring well.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  REFRIGERATE DOUGH FOR 4-5 HOURS.

Preheat oven to 350 and butter a cookie sheet or line one with parchment..  Shape dough into balls (I do them on the large side) and put them on sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, making sure to take them out while they look a tad undone still.

Caramel Corn


I had a celebratory lunch with two of  my colleagues today. We've had a really good time working together, and I felt lucky to be sitting with them at Swanson's Nursery--the spring sun finding its way in, talking about nerdy things like group process. I have definitely found my tribe.

And I brought them caramel corn. What else do you do for two guys who don't need much? This is where cooking frequently saves my #$%. I don't have to run to the store or worry my gift has drastically missed the mark. They both have some travel coming up, and I thought this might fortify them. High fiber at least, right?!

I made this several times around Christmas, giving it for gifts or bringing it to parties. I love how people cannot resist it. It looks plebeian enough, sitting there in its unassuming way. But after the first half-hearted bite, frenzy ensues. Salty, sweet, crunchy, tasting nothing like commercial caramel corn with those giant, squeaky kernels. It takes 60 minutes of cooking in a low oven--largely unattended time, but you don't want to fall asleep in the middle.

P.S. My friend Matt loaned me his old SLR camera to play around with. Loretta's been subjected to a lot of photo shoots the past few days. Maybe that's what's contributing to my sudden nostalgia about my kids--about them getting older, about all the moments I don't appreciate them (mothers are allowed those), but mostly about how completely precious and interesting they are. Remind me to look at this photo again when Loretta won't put her coat on.


Caramel Corn with Salted Peanuts
This is taken straight off Orangette. Since my first night reading Molly's blog, I've started reading hosts of others that give me lots of enjoyment in various ways--photos, writing, recipes. But hers still has it all. She somehow creates a magical little world (with predictably GREAT recipes) that entices me every time.


Carrot Cake Cookies

carrot cake cookies

I'm here to praise two things--carrot cake cookies and the CCP team I've been coaching for the last three months. Delicious, both.

If I saw this photo, I'd be wanting to hear about the cookies first. Exclamations! Pep rallies! Honor rolls! Trot out all the awards for these. They're better than carrot cake for several reasons--1)Surface Area Quotient. More edges to get chewy and a little bit crispy 2) Honeyed cream cheese with cardamom, more gently sweetened than your average, cloying cream cheese frosting 3) Handheld. No plate and fork necessary 4)"Special occasion" like a cake, but far less work. Biting into them, with their bits of toasted pecans and candied ginger and the frosting peeking out the sides, they stay perfectly intact. And they might help you forget for a minute that the Gulf is an oil slick  and city budget cuts threaten to shutter half of Seattle's parks before the year is over.


And Number Five: they're not cupcakes. Have I gone into my snotty cupcake rant? Ubiquitous, expensive, poor ratio of cake to frosting. If you're a Cupcake Lover, please keep on loving them. They're just not my thing.

Now, please stay around for this. As much as I eschew cupcakes, I love my CCP team. Six amazing people--2 grad students, 2 Organizational Development practitioners, a high school counselor and an IT professional--all coming together to help a local non-profit with mission and purpose. We've been meeting every Tuesday night since February, and they've done stellar work together. They've served the client, given hard feedback to each other, been extraordinarily faithful to their commitment, and taught me a whole lot about how great groups function. I'll miss our times together, and I look forward to knowing them for a long time.

I made these cookies for them. Some have become faithful readers of this blog, and I think they've been wondering, "Where's all this food she's been talking about?" Our meetings have been pretty austere--a bowl of chips on the coffee table, and lots of hard work. Have a cookie, Tuesday Titans. It's really the least I can do.

treats for titans

Carrot Cake Cookies
Adapted from Epicurious. You can sub raisins for the candied ginger, leave the spices out of the filling, throw in some coconut. And you could leave out the nuts, though that makes me sad. This recipe makes only a dozen cookies, so you'll need to double it if you're making them for a crowd. I strongly recommend using parchment paper to line your baking sheets, as these cookies stick. If you don't have parchment, make sure to generously butter your pans. And keep an eye on them as they cook to avoid overbaking.

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely grated carrots (2 medium)
1 scant cup pecans (3 ounces), toasted and chopped
4 Tb. candied ginger chopped
8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup honey
10 green cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed
Grating of fresh nutmeg

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 2 baking sheets (or line with parchment).

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in carrots, nuts, and ginger at low speed, then add flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Drop 1 1/2 tablespoons batter per cookie 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and springy to the touch, 12 to 16 minutes total. Cool cookies on sheets on racks 1 minute, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

While cookies are baking, blend cream cheese, honey, cardamom, and nutmeg in a food processor or mixer until smooth.

Sandwich flat sides of cookies together with a generous tablespoon of cream cheese filling in between. Makes one dozen.

Ricotta Mini Cakes

tray full of goodness

What's my deal with white food lately? Chicken and rice, doughnuts, snickerdoodle muffins, and now these. Maybe it's some sort of subterranean longing for plain, uncomplicated things.

I found this recipe in a magazine at the gym, and now I can't remember if it was Family Circle, Woman's of those free subscriptions that show up in all gyms and doctors' offices. I get a gut "I-know-that's-a-good-recipe" feeling sometimes. I had that feeling about these cookies and couldn't wait to see if I was right.

Loretta and I needed a project yesterday. She'd put up with my working, my distraction, and being hauled around town. For both our sakes, I needed to focus on her for a bit. She measured, stirred, and industriously spread flour from one end of the kitchen to the other. When Wyatt and Loretta ate these cookies after dinner last night, they literally started dancing. Wyatt said, "If I had a bigger thumb, I'd use it for a thumbs up right now." I had considered spicing these up with cardamom, lemon zest, or almond extract. In the end, I opted for a big thumbs up instead. Kids always want plain, uncomplicated things. In this case, they're on to something.

my favorite baker

These are moist little cookie cakes, and almost look like drop biscuits when they're baking up, toasty crags on top. The ricotta acts like sour cream or yogurt might, giving a slight tartness, softness, and body. And I love dipping them in the icing rather than spreading it. Genius. If you dip the center of the barely warm cookies into the icing, the icing sticks perfectly and spreads just enough down the sides of the cake.

"Simpler is better" is a message I'm hearing in many forms lately, from clients, friends, kids, from my husband who's always telling me to relax. The other day he made a list. One one side was "Yancey's Stressors." Two things. My column went all the way down the page. Thank God there's only one of me. And it's too bad simpler is sometimes harder. If you're feeling that way, drop everything and make these cookies.

mini ricotta cakes

Ricotta Mini Cakes
Makes 2 dozen. Even though I just gave a sermonette on simplicity, don't let that stop you. I'm not the last word (don't tell my kids that). I imagine Meyer lemon with these. Or so many other things.

2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 c. powdered sugar
3 Tb. milk

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease two baking sheets (or line with parchment).

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Beat butter and granulated sugar together until blended. Add ricotta, egg, and vanilla and beat until blended. On low speed, add flour mixture. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake until golden brown around the edges, about 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets for a few minutes, then place them on a cooling rack to cool completely.

For glaze, whisk powdered sugar and milk until smooth. Dip centers of cookies in--glaze will slowly spread down the sides. Let glaze harden.

Gingered Doughnuts

warm and sweet

I've had a scrambled week. I'm definitely entering a new season in my life, and a bit unprepared. Sort of like being caught in a downpour with a wool sweater on. I was going to say, "Caught in a downpour without an umbrella," but that wouldn't be bothersome for Seattleites. We never carry umbrellas. But wet wool sweaters? That happens to us all the time, and it stinks.

One necessary evil lately is having to work in the morning while the kids watch cartoons. (If you care about me, please don't send any links to stories about screen time.) And they've been getting toast and fruit for breakfast while I drink my coffee standing up. This morning, though--Sunday morning, kids coming down with colds, Yancey at the station--I put down my work to make doughnuts. I don't want them to feel entirely neglected. And nothing says, "Your mother loves you more than she loves her iPhone" like deep-frying. Deep-frying and rolling in sugar, no less.

ready for frying

One of our favorite rituals is getting the hot cinnamon-y doughnuts at Pike Place Market. These days, the secret is out, and there's often a line snaking down the center of the market. I don't think I can beat those, but you won't have to get on the train or pay for parking when you make these. And they don't have ginger ones.

I could really take up your day by stopping to talk about ginger--fresh, candied, dried. And its limitless, delicious uses in smoothies, cookies, cakes, curries, soups, tea. I always have a few big knobs in my produce drawer and a bag of crystallized ginger in the pantry. Unfortunately, my children aren't quite as keen on it. Sugar all over his face, Wyatt said, "Mom, thanks for the awesome breakfast. Minus the ginger." It didn't stop them, though.

Gingered Doughnuts
Adapted from my green Gourmet cookbook. This recipe makes about 40 small doughnuts. I halved it. I used my cast iron skillet for deep frying and a candy thermometer to make sure the oil was hot enough. When you test it, make the sure the tip doesn't rest on the bottom of the pan. It will melt (not that I've learned the hard way or anything). You can certainly make these doughnuts without the candied and dried ginger. Or roll them in sugar and cinnamon instead of sugar and dried ginger. This dough is easy to make and easy to work with. The hardest part about these is making sure the oil doesn't get too hot or too cool and making sure you don't eat the entire batch.

4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 oz crystalized ginger, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
10 cups vegetable oil

For dredging mixture, whisk together 1 cup sugar and  3/4 teaspoon ground ginger in a shallow bowl.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, 3/4 c sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger in a large bowl.

Whisk buttermilk, butter, and eggs until smooth, then buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir until a dough forms (dough will be sticky).

Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and knead gently just until it comes together, 10 to 12 times, then form into a ball. Lightly dust work surface and dough with flour, then roll out dough into a 13-inch round (about 1/3 inch thick) with a floured rolling pin. Cut out 3/4" rounds with floured cutter and transfer to a lightly floured baking sheet. Gather scraps and reroll, then cut out additional rounds. (Reroll only once.)

Heat oil in a wide 5-quart heavy pot until thermometer registers 375°F. Working in batches of 7 or 8 (or 4 or 5 if you're using a cast iron skillet), carefully add rounds, 1 at a time, to oil and fry, turning over once, until golden brown, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes total per batch. (Return oil to 375°F between batches.) Transfer to paper towels to drain. Cool slightly, then dredge in ginger sugar.

Rustic Chocolate Pie

my fitness pal can shove it

Good thing I made this last week. Goodbye, chocolate pie. Hello, My Fitness Pal. I'm tracking my calories, which is almost impossible not to do without obsessing. And feeling hungry every second of the day. Apparently, 1400 calories a day should be enough for me. It's mind-blowing to have only 400 calories left to spend on dinner after having been moderate and mindful all day long. Any tips out there for a first-time calorie-counter?

I am grateful for my body and have a good relationship with it. I've talked several times here before about exercise, healthy eating, and how it's possible to still be food-obsessed at the same time. But I'm realizing all over again is that this mindfulness business isn't something I can do for a few months and then back off. It never ends!

My Fitness Pal (I love to hate that name) tells me that exercise gives me more calories to spend. That's incentive. Big time. A two-hour walk might earn me a small piece of this pie. And I could listen to food podcasts along the way, which isn't a half-bad proposition.

I tore this recipe out of Better Homes and Gardens at the gym last week. I've stopped trying to mute the deafening shredding sound. No one around me seems to mind. They're too busy watching The Food Network. And have you noticed? Even magazines like Better Homes and Gardens often have good or interesting recipes these days. This is a case where a rising tide really does lift all boats. Our collective food consciousness has evolved even if our practice hasn't. That's a topic for another day. In the meantime, I'm wild about this concoction, and it will give Priya more uses for all that chocolate she's been buying. We won't let My Fitness Pal in on this little secret.

Rustic Chocolate Pie
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens. I considered using one of my own crust recipes, but ended up with this one. It gave me zero problems and turned out beautifully flaky and was just the right size for the amount of filling. I used Guittard 60% chocolate--don't use the super super dark stuff, as it doesn't turn out as smooth. These days, I'm into the Ghiradelli 60% chips, too. Available at almost all grocery stores, affordable, and melt easily. This really does serve 10-12 people, as you only need a small slice (And don't share any with My Fitness Pal. Though well-intentioned, she's kind of a *&*$# ).

3/4  cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4  tsp. salt
5  Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
1-1/2  to 2 Tbsp. cold water
6  oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (not to exceed 62 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
2  egg whites, at room temperature
1/8  tsp. cream of tartar
1/2  tsp. vanilla extract
1/4  cup sugar
1/8  tsp. salt
3/4  cup chopped lightly toasted pecans or walnuts + more for the top
Chocolate shavings (optional)

To make crust, in bowl thoroughly mix flour and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cut butter in chunks and add to bowl. With two knives, pastry blender, or food processor, cut butter into flour, tossing to coat with flour until largest pieces are size of pine nuts and remaining resemble coarse bread crumbs. Drizzle 2-3 Tbsp. cold water over flour mixture while tossing and mixing, until just moist enough to hold together when pressed. Add remaining water if needed. Turn out on plastic wrap. Gather into flank disk, pressing in any loose pieces. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Position rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. If your dough has been in the fridge a long time, Let it stand 30 minutes at room temperature, or until pliable enough to roll without cracking. On lightly floured surface, roll dough to 14x9-inch oval, about 1/8 inch thick, rotating and dusting with flour to prevent sticking. Brush excess flour from dough; fold in half to transfer to a piece of parchment slightly larger than dough. Unfold dough. Loosely fold and roll edge, without pressing, to form rimmed crust. Place parchment with pastry on baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until light golden brown (crust edge will be a little raw inside).

Meanwhile for filling, melt chocolate in microwave on 50 percent power (medium) about 2 minutes. Stir frequently until chocolate is almost completely melted. Remove from microwave. Stir until melted; set aside.

In bowl beat egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and 1/8 tsp. salt. Beat until whites are stiff but not dry. Pour pecans and melted chocolate over whites; fold with spatula until batter is uniform color.

Remove crust from oven. Reduce oven to 350 degrees F. Dollop filling on crust. Spread to 1/2 inch thick. Bake 10 minutes, or until surface looks dry and slightly cracked (fudgy inside). Cool on baking sheet on rack. Serve warm or cool. Cover and refrigerate after 2 hours or up to 24 hours. To serve, sprinkle toasted walnuts and chocolate shavings. Makes 10 servings.

Bittersweet Hot Fudge Sauce

temptation central

My goodness.  I'm not going to use the weather as a conversation-starter anymore.  I'm going to say, "Hello.  My name is Sarah. Nice to meet you.  How do you like your eggs?"  It just might be one of the few (non-controversial) things all of us can enthusiastically chime in on.

Chocolate is today's conversation-starter.  And I have a confession.  All those magnets, bumper stickers and aprons for chocolate lovers have never spoken to me.  If I'm out for dinner and ask for the dessert menu, it's not chocolate I'm hoping to see.  I want a coconut dessert (which I absolutely cannot resist) or custard or something made from lemons. Pre-children, Yancey and I went on a week-long backpacking trip in the North Cascades.  We ate freeze-dried soups and chunks of summer sausage and instant oats in the morning.  At least 10 times a day, huffing up some hill or fording some stream, I'd say, "When we get back, I'm going straight to Gelatiamo for coconut gelato." And I did.

You might be getting the wrong idea, though.  I love chocolate, and eat my share of it.  Friends came for dinner the other night, all of us and the kids smooshed around our kitchen table.  We eat three huge pans of Yancey's pizza, emptied lots of beer bottles, and still saved room for this crazy-rich sauce.  I served it with dulce de leche ice cream, flaked salt, pretzels, and roasted almonds.  It even gave coconut pies and lemon tarts a run for their money (and will take you five minutes to make).

bittersweet sweetness

Bittersweet Hot Fudge Sauce
From my (yellow) Gourmet cookbook.  This is the kind of sauce that will firm up a bit when it hits the cold ice cream, making delightfully fudgy nubbins throughout.  You can keep it in the fridge for at least a week, but I dare you to resist dipping a spoon in the pitcher every night.  To rewarm it, put it in a saucpan and heat very gently over low heat.

2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring cream, corn syrup, sugar, cocoa, salt, and half of chocolate to a boil in a 1 to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until chocolate is melted. Reduce heat and cook at a low boil, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Add butter, vanilla, and remaining chocolate and stir until smooth. Cool sauce to warm before serving.

Gingerbread with Meyer Lemon Glaze


I've had this food blog for 9 months, and have been keeping this favorite morsel from you all the while.  If you'll forgive me and read on, I think we can patch things up.

My mom used to make this Silver Palate recipe--it was often her go-to dessert when company came over.  I've been making it, in her kitchen or mine, since my early teens.  My sister makes it too.  When I pour the boiling water over the batter, stirring it to golden smoothness, I have almost overwhelming physical memories of all the other times I've done it.  If you've followed along with In Praise of Leftovers for any length of time, you've no doubt noticed my irrepressible streak of sentimentality. Food does that--reminds us of every other time we've eaten it, all the things we used to do and the people we used to be.

gingerbread for breakfast

And gingerbread reminds me of my girlhood neighbor, Mrs. Owen.  Food writers have been accused of being "wheezy memoirists," and these are the kinds of stories that give us a bad name.  But I have to tell it anyway.  If you skip forward to the recipe, I won't be offended.

Mrs. Owen was 92, living in a big old turn of the century house by herself, with a daily caregiver and cook named Nancy Drew (no joke). I read to her once a week when I was in middle school.  She'd sit in her favorite chair, all dolled up for the occasion, and have me read National Geographic features or The Incredible Journey. She loved stories about animals, and one of her cats would curl up on her lap as I read.  She'd pat my hands and kiss my cheeks, and always, always have Nancy make something for my visit.  We'd have Minute Maid orange juice (which Mrs. Owen adored) and often, gingerbread.  At first, she'd attempt to serve it herself, pulling down her ancient china plates and barely making it into the living room, forks clattering the whole way. I convinced her to let me, finally, and we'd sit there with our orange juice and gingerbread, the most unlikely pair in the world.

I marvel at that 12-year old self sometimes.  Loretta turns three today, and I have no idea if she'll be the sort of girl to read to her elderly neighbors.  I hope so.  If gingerbread is involved, it's quite likely.

gingerbread chef-in-training

Gingerbread with Meyer Lemon Glaze
From The Silver Palate Cookbook, the first cookbook I bought in college.  The simple glaze is lemon juice and powdered sugar, poured over the hot cake and turning sticky as it cools.  I used Meyer lemons since they're around right now, but you can use conventional ones with the same delicious results.  I always eat this with whipped cream, but you don't need to.  Without it, it makes a wonderful breakfast.  I made this for a weeknight dinner with our friends Derek and Amity this week.  After all these years, it's still my go-to dessert.

1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/4 ts. baking soda
1 1/2 ts. ground ginger
3/4 ts. ground cinnamon
3/4 ts. salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. molasses
1/2 c. boiling water
1/2 c. vegetable oil

For lemon glaze:
2/3 c. powdered sugar
4 Tb. fresh Meyer lemon or lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 and butter an 8" square baking pan.

Sift dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.  Add eggs, sugar, and molasses, and mix well.  Pour boiling water and oil over mixture. Stir thoroughly until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes , or until top springs back when touched and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan.

While gingerbread is baking, make glaze.  Sift powdered sugar into a bowl, add lemon juice, and mix well.

While gingerbread is still hot, poke small holes with a toothpick all over cake.  Pour glaze over the cake and cool in the pan.

Serves with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if you like.

[Expletive!] Blondie Bars


Okay.  The crying and insomnia of the last few days seems to have abated.  Are you ready for some relief?

Let's hear it for bar cookies.  Just dump that dough in a pan and see what happens.  No rolling, no fretting about burnt edges or how big to make those "Tablespoonfuls" that recipes jauntily call for.  Once cooked, you can make them as big or little as you want (there's danger in both), and their sturdiness makes them forgiving on car trips, in lunches, or packed up for firefighters (in this case.)

Blondies are basically a tricked-out, dense chocolate chip cookie, made with more brown sugar than white, and subject to variations like coconut, nuts or no nuts, butterscotch chips or toffee bits.  My favorite Blondies around town are at Oddfellows, but Columbia City Bakery is right on their heels.  By now, you know about my thing for cookies.  The Temptation Hour  is 3:00 in the afternoon, when my lids are starting to droop and I'm getting bummed about not accomplishing more in my day. Good cup of coffee; little bit of sweet gooeyness--dinner and day's end don't seem so far away.

[Expletive!] Blondie Bars
This is a Dorie Greenspan recipe, retrieved from somewhere in the great Interwebbing Blogdom.  Don't ask me where.  I think by now it's changed somewhat from the original.  All you need to know is--YUM.  I used chocolate and butterscotch chips and walnuts, but can imagine so many other variations--coconut, macadamia nuts, corn flakes.  You name it.

2 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 c. butterscotch chips or toffee bits
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 and butter a 9x13 pan.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

In in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, bat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until well-incorporated.  Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in vanilla.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until they just disappear into the batter.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chips, nuts, or anything else you're adding.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to even the top.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the blondies comes out clean.  They should pull away from the sides of the pan and the top should be a nice honey brown.

Cool to room temperature before cutting into bars.

Chile Pumpkin Seed Toffee

chile pumpkin seed toffee

I've had a couple sleepless nights this week, thinking about Haiti, how unthinkably nightmarish it must be to wander around with no home, family, or food.  All I can do is lie there in the dark, praying for their comfort and relief.

And I can be grateful.  This blog has had some warranted criticism of late--too many epiphanies, not enough about what happened before the epiphany.  It's true--there are days when Loretta lies down in the mud, refusing to get in her car seat.  Or when Yancey and I fight yet again about me using the kitchen table as my personal Goodwill donation station.  Or all the times, despite my good life, when I feel lonely, inadequate, angry, and scared.  But when I sit down to write, those aren't the things that float to the top. A kind of amnesia sets in about all the moments when I wanted to scream (but don't worry--those moments exist).

As I bear a very far-away witness to one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in my lifetime, I still find so many gifts in this otherwise ordinary week.  Today, with Loretta sleeping and the house to myself for a little while, here are the ones that wash up, like messages in bottles:

  1. This chile pumpkin seed toffee, which I took to Jordan's last-night-in-Seattle dinner and to book club the next night. It's the treat I settled on after discovering I didn't have any eggs in the fridge.  And it's a keeper.
  2. Sitting with Xiao Yu and Sue around Sue's kitchen table last night, squeezing Meyer lemons (from Barb's prolific tree) into our glasses and topping them off with champagne.
  3. Emily's Christmas gift to us--babysitting while Yancey and I went to see Jane and Michael Stern at Benaroya.  We laughed a lot, and I felt so proud to finally call myself a food writer.  I loved what Michael said--how the pitmasters in the South used to be considered manual laborers, and now they're honored as folk heroes.  Chalk another one up for the healing power of food.
  4. Having a Lady Gaga dance party with my family while doing dishes after dinner.
  5. A few pinnacle work moments when I got to be part of co-workers forgiving and reconciling with one another.

Hope you find your beach littered with good things in the next week, and that all of us remember the global, human family to which we belong.

Chile Pumpkin Seed Toffee
And if you want to guarantee your week is bearable, make this.  You can find the basic recipe here, but adapt it in the following way:  sub raw pumpkin seeds for roasted hazelnuts.  After you've scattered the pumpkin seeds over the melted chocolate, sprinkle 1/2 ts. flaked salt and a smidgen of Ancho chile powder.

Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies

dulce de leche cookies

There are at least two kinds of eaters in the world--those that have dessert every night and those that don't. We're the latter sort, with the great exception of Company.  Company for dinner, that is.  My grandmother made dessert for her ten children every night.  To this day, my dad instinctively hunts around for a bit of chocolate when dinner's over.

Friends will be here tomorrow night, so I spent some time poring through my new Gourmet cookbook (the light green one for $21.95 at Costco that all of you should own).  Wyatt sat next to me on the couch, pretending that Harry Potter wasn't way above his reading level. His M.O. is to know everything, or at least pretend like he does.  Wonder where he gets that.

So I happily paged through--chocolate mousse?  Poached pears?  A decadent cake?  Most the time, I always seem to come around to cookies.  Quick, satisfying, easily packed up to send home with guests.  That's another way the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  My mom has always loved a good cookie.  Normally, I would whiz right past something that called for a jar of dulce de leche.  Who has that it in their pantry?  Well, I do.  A PFI purchase several months ago, lolling about on my pantry shelf, waiting for the perfect pairing.

This is it.  These butter cookies, made with cornstarch and egg yolks, are so tender you'll want to cry.  Some filled cookies are too brittle for their filling, cracking apart when you bite into them.  Not these.  Lord, they are perfect.  And just the easiest little morsel any cook could hope to come by.  Grandmama, these are for you.  I don't know how you did it.

for grandmama

Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies
Reprinted almost exactly from the new Gourmet cookbook.  I used a 2" biscuit cutter, so this recipe made 20 cookies instead of the 32 promised by the recipe.  If you have a smaller cookie cutter, you can get more yield. I love tiny cookies.  And if you don't want to go to all this trouble for 20 cookies, double the recipe.

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon brandy
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
About 1/4 cup dulce de leche (available in a jar at good grocery stores)
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a large baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

Whisk together cornstarch, 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then beat in egg yolks, brandy, and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until combined, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons flour if dough is sticky. (Dough should be soft.)

Form dough into a disk and roll out into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Cut out 20-32 rounds (depending on size of cookie cutter) with cutter (reroll scraps if necessary) and transfer to sheet, arranging rounds 1/2 inch apart.

Bake until firm and pale golden around edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool 10 minutes.

Sandwich cookies with about 1/2 teaspoon dulce de leche. Dust with confectioners sugar.


Russian Teacakes (aka Little Spheres of Perfection)

russian teacakes

(Foolishly?), I have begun making most my Christmas gifts in the last few years.  I'm realizing how much TIME it takes, and that it's not necessarily much cheaper.  I picked Emily up for our Christmas date last night.  When she asked me how I was, I said, "I'm not in the Christmas spirit."  I haven't had time to putter around in the kitchen yet, I'm stressed about a few outstanding commitments with clients before Christmas, and I feel generally discombobulated.  (That is an awesome word.  It sounds discombobulated, doesn't it?) Being with Emily for the night helped, though.  We finally went to Delancey and got so absorbed in conversation that we were late to our movie. (For the record, both of us hate being late to movies.  I always joke that I'd pay to see two hours worth of previews.)  We got the pizza special--finely chopped brussel sprouts, cooked down with cream and white wine, spread on perfect crust and topped with lots of bacon. Sounds like a Leftoverist pizza, if I do say so myself.

If I'm not being cheered up by Emily, these cookies are another option.  I am certainly not the first person to expound their virtues. They're also called Mexican Wedding Cakes (or Viennese Crescents or Snowballs or so many other things.)  In my family, we've always called them Russian Teacakes.  I think of them as Little Spheres of Perfection.  They are fast, unfussy, can be made without going to the store (especially if your house is a nut warehouse like mine), and have come through for me a million times.  And for some reason, I don't make them unless it's Christmas.

I make mine on the small side--two bites' worth.  I love that first bite, when the powdered sugar bursts out in a little cloud, and it becomes deliciously obvious how much BUTTER they contain.  You decide not to care (it's Christmastime, after all, and you've been discombobulated).  Besides, they're little.  So little, in fact, that one is definitely not enough.

Russian Teacakes
You can use finely ground pecans, walnuts, or almonds.  Pecans are my favorite.  Though there are some baking recipes where nuts are optional, this isn't one of them.  And the double roll in powdered sugar is imperative, too.  The first tumble helps the sugar start sticking to the warm cookies.  The second one really coats them.  And since there's not much sugar in the cookies themselves, you can really go for it with the powdered sugar.  And I usually make a double batch.  Once baked, they'll keep well for several days.

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2  c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1/8 tsp. salt
2 c. finely chopped pecans
about 1 1/2 c. more powdered sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.  Add vanilla.  Combine flour, salt, and pecans; stir into sugar mixture.

Roll dough into 1" (or a bit smaller) balls.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

While hot, roll in powdered sugar.  Cool for a bit, then roll again in powdered sugar to coat.

Cranberry Pinwheels

cranberry pinwheels

Alright already!  Enough not-so-subtle hints dropped about my Mom's cranberry pinwheels!  Sheesh.  It's fun pretending I'm annoyed, but my Need to be Needed tendencies love it.

My Mom's been making some version of these cookies on our Christmas baking day for a few years now.  This year, she used fresh cranberries and pecans.  Other years, she's used dried cranberries and pistachios.  I can't decide which I like better.

December usually finds a bag of cranberries in the fridge or freezer and you are probably sick and tired of all my cranberry recipes. Sorry.  They're not over yet.  Does anybody else stalk Foodgawker?  It's the website that showcases photos from food blogs.  Certainly there are lots of seasonal things on there--squash, apples, cranberries--but I'm always amazed at the preponderance of completely out-of-season things like fresh raspberries or asparagus.  a) Expensive b) Very low flavor c) Huge carbon footprint d) I'm a snob.  I'm no locavore (I could never do without lemons and olive oil, for instance), but asparagus?!  I'll save that for spring and then make a whole meal out of it.  Gives me something to look forward to.

For now, in the bleak of winter, these bright berries show up everywhere.  And I promise I'll lay off the cookies once 2010 dawns. Unless, of course, you beg me to keep going.

mom in my kitchen

Cranberry Pinwheels
I was in the kitchen when my Mom made these this year, but didn't watch her and haven't made them myself.  They are always ambrosial, but I'm not in a position to give any special tips.  Mom?  Bethany?  You want to chime in?

1 cup fresh cranberries
1 c pecans
1/4 c brown sugar
1 c butter, softened
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tsp orange peel
3 c flour

For filling: Combine pecans , cranberries, and brown sugar. Pulse  in food processor until nuts are finely chopped. Set aside.

In a large bowl beat butter for 30 seconds, then add sugar,baking powder and, salt. Beat until combined. Beat in eggs and orange peel. Beat in as much flour as you can. Stir in any remaining flour with a spooon. Divide the dough in half,cover and chill for a hour or until easy to handle.

Roll one ball of the dough between pieces of waxed paper into a 10" square to and spread cranberry filling to within 1/2 inch of the edges. Roll dough into a log.  Moisten edges to seal. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 4 to 24 hours. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Preheat oven to 375. Cut rolls into 1/4" slices and place 2" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 min. or until edges are frim and bottons are light brown. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 min. Transfer to wire rack; cool. Makes about 60 (don't believe it).

P.S. My Mom made a quick icing for the cookies pictured.  Sift 1 c. powdered sugar into a bowl, then whisk with 1 Tb. milk, adding more powdered sugar or milk to reach desired consistency.  Drizzle over cooled cookies.

Chocolate Cake for Ginger

chocolate cake for ginger

My old high school friend Tammy started reading In Praise of Leftovers in the spring.  She told her friend Ginger about it, who quickly became Leftoverist Fan #1.  Tammy contacted me this summer with an idea--for Ginger's 40th, could I come and surprise her?  So we've been planning since then.  Mostly Tammy, actually.  She invited Ginger's friends, set a beautiful table, faked getting lost on the way to the party.  And we were not disappointed.  Not even a little bit.  When Ginger knocked, I opened the door.  She looked at me, looked back at Tammy, then said, "Is this Sarah?"  When Tammy nodded, the freaking out ensued, and it was easily one of my 2009 highlights. Screaming, hugging, laughing, jumping up and down.  All of us.

There were so many things about the evening that I loved--seeing Ginger's friends love and celebrate her; seeing Tammy's sheer delight in surprising her in such a thoughtful way; meeting new people and getting to be part of their lives for a night.  Even more, though, I'm so honored that they wanted me there.  More than my food (which we ate plenty of), they invited me so we could cook together, rub off on each other a little bit.  Ginger said a few times, "If I were you, I'd be feeling really good right now." And I was--in every way.  Thanks for a memorable night, ladies.  And Happy 40th, Ginger.  Such good things are in store for you.

me and the birthday girl

One of the prerequisites was chocolate for dessert.  That's a pretty wide boundary, but I knew right away I would make Molly Wizenberg's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.  It's in her book, and I'm sure it's all over the blogosphere.  But no one has made it for Ginger's 40th before, I'm willing to bet.  This almost-flourless cake is dependable, easy, perfectly silky and rich, and can be dressed up any way you want.  This photo with a bit of orange zest is from a few weeks ago.  I've also poured a balsamic reduction around it, and last night, I served it with candied Meyer lemons and lightly sweetened whipped cream.  I cut it into very small wedges, as it's akin to eating a truffle--you just need a bit.  Plus, by that time, we were hardly hungry anymore.

I keep Molly's book up with my cookbooks, and it's all dog-eared and grease-stained already.  I join the thousands of other food bloggers who say things like, "I started my blog after reading Orangette," or "I was inspired by Molly."  Though her posts have been infrequent the last few months, I'm still drawn there--her humor, descriptive (but not overly) prose, and the light she shines on her little corner of the world.  In many ways, the joy of last night could be traced back to one winter day last year when I sat down to read her blog for the first time.

Molly Wizenberg's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake
I used nicer chocolate this time, but I made this before with Trader Joe's bittersweet chocolate and it turned out just as good.  I wouldn't advise using semisweet chocolate chips, though.  Too sweet and chalky.

7 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used Callebaut 60%, and Molly says you can even use Ghiradelli 60% chips)
7 ounces (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter  cut into ½-inch cubes
1 c plus 2 Tb. sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 Tb. unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees, and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.

Finely chop the chocolate and melt it gently with the butter in a double boiler, stirring frequently to combine. Add the sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, stirring well until dissolved, and set aside to cool for a few moments. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition before adding another. Lastly, add the flour. The batter should look silky and luxurious (though it might not look that way 3 eggs in--don't worry).

Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks set and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. (I usually set the timer for 20 minutes initially, and then I check the cake every two minutes thereafter until it’s done. At 20 minutes, it’s usually quite jiggly in the center. You’ll know it’s done when it jiggles only slightly, if at all.)

Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan onto a flat dish, remove the parchment, and flip it back over onto another flat dish, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.

You can keep this fresh on the counter for 3 days, wrapped in plastic wrap, or tightly wrapped in the fridge for 5 days.  And you can serve it with a million different twists depending on what's in season.

Sugarpalooza (and Hazelnut Butter Toffee)

hazelnut butter toffee

My sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and my mom and dad were here yesterday for our annual baking day.  All 10 of us in 800 square feet with nuts toasting, sugar on the floor, and dress-up clothes carpeting the living room.  It was one of those days where I intensely wished for a bigger house, but my kitchen was up to it.  What a hardworking, accommodating bit of space it is.  It's where our life happens.  The kitchen table is the only work surface in the house, so the afternoon found my dad working at Wyatt's little desk, knees up to his ears.

We made English toffee, bittersweet chocolate fudge, Russian teacakes, cranberry pinwheels, thumbprints, shortbread cut-outs, spritz cookies, chocolate peppermint cookies, and pecan butter cookies.  No way am I going to feature all those recipes here and induce diabetic comas across the region.  Just being around all that sugar makes me want to go on a week-long celery diet.

Christmas Bake-Off 2009

After everyone had left, Wyatt said, "I liked today because I could always come into the kitchen and help with something." Thank God for grandparents and aunts who seem to be infinitely more patient with supervising children "helping" than I am. While I hovered over my candy thermometer and did dishes, my sister helped the kids decorate Santa sleighs and my Dad made a "Dr. Seuss" Christmas tree with them.  On days when I let my kids watch cartoons all day, remind me they had this day, too.

Here is one of my offerings--butter toffee with toasted hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate.  As I was prying it off the baking sheet and cracking it into sweet shards, all of the sudden I was surrounded by hands, big and small, sneaking bits.  It keeps perfectly, and looks beautiful in a cellophane bag with a bow.  As of today, it still doesn't tempt me at all, but I aim to give it away soon. Otherwise, I'll be up in the middle of the night, the crackling cellophane giving me away.

Christmas Bake Off 2009

Hazelnut Butter Toffee
Makes one cookie sheet-full, or about 1/2 lb and enough for 3 gifts.  Adapted from the Seattle PI, back when it was around and I blessedly got it on my doorstep every morning.  I didn't own a candy thermometer until last year when I bought one for $8.00 at Safeway to make this toffee.  You really need one to make this, but it won't break the bank, and it sure is cheaper than buying your Christmas gifts at the mall.  I made one batch with almonds and one with hazelnuts.  Both were delicious, but I liked the hazelnut better. Oh--one more thing.  I buy my bittersweet chocolate at Trader Joe's--those giant "pound plus" Belgian bars for under $4.  Best deal anywhere.

1 cup (two sticks) butter, plus a little extra for buttering the saucepan and baking sheet
1 c. sugar
3 Tb. water
1 Tb. light corn syrup
1 c. chopped almonds or hazelnuts, toasted
3/4 c. finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or semisweet chocolate chips)

Butter the sides of a heavy 2-qt. saucepan, then melt 1 c. butter in it.  Butter a baking sheet with sides (jellyroll pan).

To toast hazelnuts or almonds, spread out on a baking sheet and toast at 350--about 8 minutes for hazelnuts, 10 for almonds. To skin hazelnuts, spread warm nuts in a clean dishtowel and rub them.  Many (not all) of the papery skins will come off. Don't worry about the stubborn ones.

Add sugar, water, and corn syrup, cooking and stirring over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils.  Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture reaches 290 degrees, watching carefully after 280 degrees.  (Note:  The temperature will hover close to boiling, 212 degrees, for awhile as the water boils off.  Don't be fooled into thinking you can leave the pan unattended or stop watching the temperature.  One the excess water is gone, the temperature will shoot up fast.)

From from heat and quickly and carefully stir in 1/2 c. of almonds.

Carefully pour the hot mixture onto the buttered baking sheet.  After 3 minutes (and not a second less, as I discovered), sprinkle the surface with chocolate.  When the chocolate begins to melt, spread it evenly over the candy.  Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top.

Chill until firm (at least 15 minutes), then break into pieces.  (Note:  Slip a spatula under a corner of the toffee and lift to easily remove chunks from the pan.)

One-Hit Wonder: Cranberry Cognac Trifle

cranberry cognac trifle

I brought this to a Christmas party last night.  Unless you suddenly get laid off from your job and are injected with gallons of extra energy at the same time, I don't necessarily advise making it.  It was delicious--eggy, vanilla cake; cranberry jam; orange-scented custard;, and cognac syrup, fit snugly into a (newly purchased) trifle dish and soaking up each other's flavors.

Loretta helped me "paint" the cake with syrup and jam.  It took me twice as long, but she acted like I just flew her to Disney World. She kept crinkling up her nose, smiling her biggest smile, and saying, "Mom, what can I do now?"

Despite that cute story, I'm still warning you to think twice--maybe three times--before you spend all your precious time so flagrantly. You have to make the cake, and you need THREE baking sheets to do it.  Then you make the jam and custard (which, despite my years of cooking experience, I still find nerve-wracking).  Then you assemble the damn thing, which has never been my forte.  I'm all thumbs when it comes to making things look pretty.  Rustic is more my thing.

sugared cranberries

But it turned out, I reverently carried it on my lap to the party, and it garnered the desired oohs and ahs when I unveiled it.  And it should I describe it?  Like Christmas in a bowl.  A really good Christmas, when it snows on Christmas Eve, you have a week's vacation coming up,  and someone gives you an iPhone (totally hypothetical).

On the way home, we loaded tired kids into the car and I put my licked-clean new trifle bowl on the floor.  We took a sharp corner and it fell down and shattered against the door.  Yancey said, "Well, that was one-hit wonder."  Looks like I won't be making another trifle this year (or maybe decade), but it was a wonder nonetheless.

P.S. If you want a little taste of the magic without the insanity, read my Cranberry Vanilla Jam guest post on Eralda's blog, The Split Pea.

cramberry vanilla jam

Cranberry Cognac Trifle
Thankfully, I was able to find this on Epicurious. I wasn't about to type it out for the 1 reader that might think about making it.  Not to mention the carpal tunnel that would ensue.  The recipe jauntily says something like, "You can make this over several days and assemble it eight hours before serving!"  Like that's supposed to make you feel better.

Find the recipe here

Old Fashioned Apple Pie for Thanksgiving

old fashioned apple pie

I'm in charge of dessert for Thanksgiving this year--Yancey's mom is planning the rest, and we'll cook it together.  We're not making our usual trek to see my cousins, aunts and uncles in Yakima because of Yancey's work schedule.  I'll miss them, but this seems like a good year to stick closer to home.  In the last couple days, Loretta keeps exclaiming, "Our famwie is all together again!"  It's been a busy couple weeks, and a plate of turkey and early bedtime sounds like just the thing.

I'm a fan of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Except for pumpkin pie.  Since this is a food blog, I won't go into detail about my childhood experience of eating too much pumpkin pie.  I can hardly think of a food I don't like--I am the un-pickiest eater in the world. Pumpkin pie is a rare exception.  I tried a bite a couple years ago to see if I was playing old tapes.  Nope.  30 years later, those memories are still fresh.

None of us will be suffering with apple pie, though.  I've been amused with all the Pie Fright lately. I even noticed a local class which is about the art of pie crust--several hours in a therapeutic setting helping people build confidence and face their Crust Trauma.  Maybe this syndrome has never plagued me because I grew up watching my grandmothers, aunts, and mother make pies like they were making peanut butter sandwiches.  Or maybe I escaped it because I've never been concerned about the perfect crust.  Like I've said here before, one of my favorite mantras is Good enough is good enough.

Here are a couple apple pie tips and opinions that come to mind (I know--you're surprised I have opinions.  I'm so meek and mild-mannered normally):

  • Though Crisco does make a delightfully flaky crust, I don't use it.  Butter has better flavor and doesn't clog the arteries.
  • One thing that can ruin an apple pie much more thoroughly than an imperfect crust is underbaked apples.  It's better to overbake them.  You want your fork to slide through the pie with just a bit of resistance, not be slip-sliding around everywhere.
  • I think cold ice cream generally wrecks a good pie.  I prefer mine plain or with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
  • In order to adequately cook the apples before the crust burns or gets too brown, you may have to cover the edge of the crust with foil the last 20 minutes of baking.
  • I use my food processor for the crust because it helps me not overwork the dough and it's fast.  You can use a pastry cutter or fingertips, though.
  • Your butter must be as cold as possible and your water icy cold.
  • If I'm not cleaning out my produce drawer, I like to use a mixture of tart (such as Granny Smith) and sweet (such as Golden Delicious) apples.
  • It's imperative that you cut steam vents in your top crust to prevent a soggy bottom crust.
  • Do not cut into a pie until it has cooled on the counter for 2-3 hours.  Cutting into it too soon doesn't give the juices a chance to set and eating it hot (instead of room temperature) doesn't allow the flavors to come through.
  • Even if  your pie doesn't live up to your hopes for it, you will get a lot of kudos for trying and you'll feel proud of yourself.

This Thanksgiving, I'm overcome with gratitude for so many things--my health and the health of my family; a dry roof over our heads; Yancey's new firefighting career; my amazing and loving friends; the clients I've been able to serve this year.  At the top of the list, though, I'm thankful for you, sitting in your kitchen or at your desk, taking a break from your duties to read about what happens in my kitchen.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Old Fashioned Double Crust Apple Pie
Adapted from Gourmet.  Serves 12 if you have a steady hand and you've waited until the pie is completely cool before cutting it.

For dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup plus 1 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 1/3 cup ice water over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a ball. Divide in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

For filling:
3 Tb. flour
1 ts. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 ts. cinnamon
1/4 ts. freshly ground nutmeg
1/ 8 ts. salt
3/4 c. plus 1 Tb. sugar
1 1/2 lbs. tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and each cut into 10 wedges (about 5 cups)
1 1/2 lbs. sweet apples (such as Golden Delicious), peeled, cored, and each cut into 10 wedges (about 5 cups)
1 Tb. fresh lemon juice
1 egg. lightly beaten, for egg wash

Put a large baking sheet on middle oven rack and preheat oven to 425.

Whisk together flour, zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and 3/4 c. sugar in a large bowl.  Gently toss with apples and lemon juice.

Roll out one piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13 inch round.  Fit into a 9 inch pie plate.  Trim edge, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang.

Spoon filling into shell.

Roll out remaining piece of dough on lightly floured surface into an 11 inch round.  Cover pie with pastry round and trim with kitchen shears, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang. Press edges together, then crimp decoratively.  Lightly brush top of pie with egg and sprinkle all over with remaining 1 Tb. sugar.  (the pie pictured has cinnamon and sugar on top).  With a small sharp knife, cut 3 steam vents in top crust.

Bake pie on hot baking sheet for 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temp to 375 and continue to bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, about 40 minutes more.  Cool pie on a rack to warm or room temperature, 2 to 3 hours.

Leftoverist Leap of Faith Cookies

2010 here we come

I saw my friend Dawn at the gym this morning, who told me she's had cookies on the brain lately because of this blog.  She's too nice to curse me, but huffing and puffing at 5:45 a.m. was punishment enough.  Sorry, Dawn.  More cookies.

But there's more to this story.  1) These are for the fire station.  I don't know about the rest of them, but Yancey's been burning the calories like nobody's business.  Even if their call volume is light, probationary firefighters aren't supposed to stand around.  He is busy every second.  And 2) I'm celebrating.  Maybe this celebration is premature, but I've never been good about keeping secrets or waiting for the Big Reveal.

No, I'm not pregnant.  I wouldn't be making cookies if that were the case--I'd be crying in my pillow and calling the bank to refinance.  I do feel like something is about to be born, though.  After nine months of mucking around, I thought I had decided to go out and find a full-time organization development job--be an internal consultant somewhere.  I was willing to do that, but then started viewing everything through the "I'm-about-to-be-gone-from-my-kids-50-hours-per-week" lens.  I got really sad--no more meeting Wyatt at the bus stop; no more Friday mornings at Macrina with Loretta and Milo or volunteering in Wyatt's classroom; no more keeping up with laundry (almost) or eating dinner at 6:00.

Helped along by my friend and mentor Kathy, here's my leap of faith:   I'm going to refocus my consultation practice, get serious, and really invest in it.  I know I haven't done this yet for a couple reasons.  For one, I just wasn't ready--I needed to explore some, flounder a little, figure out what I really cared about.  Even more, though, I was afraid of failure.  If I really claim something, articulate it, put it out there, people will have expectations.  And what if I can't fulfill them?  What if I can't deliver?

My friend Scott said something last week that was timely and incisive.  He said we normally think we can't risk until we trust. But it's really the other way around--we can't trust until we risk, until there's nothing left to do but trust.  When we've leapt off the cliff already, we can't be stitching up a net and worrying about whether or not it will catch and hold us.  We just have to trust the net will appear--we're not in control anymore.

I'm excited, nervous, a little bashful, and aware that there is a lot of work to do and many more leaps to take. But I haven't had this much peace in a long time.  Maybe it's the calm before the storm, but I'll take it.

leap of faith cookies

These cookies are something I made up--sort of--this afternoon.  In NYC, Bethany and I had David Chang's "Compost Cookies," made with pretzels, coffee grounds, potato chips, chocolate chips, and oats.  They were good, but I knew I could make something better.   (Don't worry, David--you still kick my ass in every other cooking venture.)  I started with the same base as My Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies, and threw everything else in from there.  A culinary leap of faith that payed off.

Wyatt had one after dinner, chewing contentedly, an occasional grunt of satisfaction.  He lost another tooth today and ran off the bus to tell me about it.  I know I can't be there every day for those moments, but it's looking like I won't miss all of them.  It feels good to be caught.

Leftoverist Leap of Faith Cookies
Makes two dozen.  You can take your own leap of faith with these cookies, experimenting with other things like corn flakes, potato chips, dried fruit, other kinds of nuts or baking chips.

1 1/2 c. flour
1 c. oats
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 ts. salt
1 ts. soda
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 cubes (1 c.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 c. granola
1 1/2  c. pretzel twists, coarsely broken
1 c. whole raw cashews
1 c. butterscotch chips
1 c. chocolate chips

Combine flour, oats, sugars, salt and soda in a large bowl.

Add eggs, melted butter, and all other ingredients.  Gently stir until everything is just combined.  Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375.  Drop refrigerated dough by Tablespoons onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet and bake until just set, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature before removing from the baking sheet.

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread

dark chocolate hazelnut shortbread

Here's something for a rainy day.  Lord, we've been having a lot of those lately.

I should not be making or eating cookies these days.  I brought my favorite dress to NYC and was appalled.  It fit me perfectly last November, and I could barely zip it this time.  Time for Moderation 2010.  I've fired up the food journal again and sworn off pancakes in favor of oatmeal.  I don't know how easy this is going to be right when holiday cookies start showing up everywhere.  And really, when is it ever easy?  Since Yancey is gone so many nights now, I've found evenings to be the latest Temptation Central.  Kids in bed at 8:00, too tired to do any work or housework, but plenty of energy to make popcorn.  Some of that is just because I have a love affair with popcorn.  But lots of it is exhaustion, work avoidance, or latent worries that seem perfectly abated by salty snacks.  My head knows that facing my worries squarely is the only real salve.  My stomach and taste buds think otherwise.

I've talked here about exercise and healthy eating--I know all this stuff.  It's just a matter of re-engaging.  No matter where I am on the healthy eating spectrum, though, coffee (or tea) and a cookie in the afternoon isn't going away.  When I'm working, this ritual goes out the door.  When I'm home and 2:00 comes around, though, this ritual calms me, holds me over till dinner, forces me to sit down for a minute and collect myself.  And it reminds me of my Dad.  Sunday afternoons, he'd come home from working both services at church and have a couple hours before going back for the evening service.  He'd put hot water on and find some loose black tea in the drawer. Then he'd scrounge in the cookie jar, usually finding something great since my Mom was the cook of the house.  He always managed to find something, even if it was stale and the rest of us wouldn't touch it.  Every house needs a human food disposal, I guess. Then he'd sit down and we'd have a few minutes to talk. To this day, I can always count on him saying yes to tea and cookies.  Just one of the countless things I love about him.

These cookies are the perfect tea cookies--crumbly, not too sweet, easily kept fresh for a week.  They're so dark as to be almost bitter, which I love, and which might serve to prevent one from eating 10 of them.  (Don't quote me on that, though.)  As I write this Sunday afternoon, we've been to church and come home tired (Have I mentioned that I always cry during church? Makes for an exhausting morning).  Loretta is sleeping, Yancey is at the fire station, and Wyatt is cleaning out his art supply drawer.  I am sitting at the kitchen table with coffee and dark chocolate shortbread, getting my head around what's coming up this week, enjoying not having to be anywhere but here.

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook (no surprise, I'm sure).  The hazelnuts and cinnamon are my additions. You can leave both of them out.  The coarse salt and sugar on top are my additions, too.  You can leave one or both of them out as well.  Since it became acceptable to salt sweet things, I have embraced the fad with gusto. All you need for this recipe is a bowl and  fork to stir with. Couldn't be easier.  Only makes 16 wedges, so you might want to double (or not, if you're trying to look your worries squarely in the face instead).

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1/2 c. hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground in food processor or chopped with a knife
1 Tb. coarse baking sugar
1 ts. flaked sea salt

Blend butter, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a bowl with a fork until well-combined.  Sift flour and cocoa over the butter mixture, add hazelnuts, and blend with fork just until a soft dough forms.

Divide dough in half.  With floured fingertips, pat dough into 6" rounds on an ungreased large cookie sheet.  Refrigerate uncovered until firm, about 30 minutes

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 375.

Prick dough all over with fork and scatter bakers sugar and sea salt over rounds.  Press a bit so crystals adhere. Bake until centers are dry to the touch and edges are slightly darker, about 15 minutes.  Cook on baking sheet for 10 minutes, then cut each shortbread into 8 wedges (while still warm) with a large heavy knife.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Chai Spice Apple Bundt Cake

fall collage

One thing I like about blogging is it makes me more aware of the seasons.  Maybe it's part of just being more observant in general, but it's a good development, I think.  The leaves in the last week have been poetry-inducing. I haven't written any poetry, of course, but maybe I can credit them for my baking blitz.

This cake is Autumn Incarnate.  I still had Honeycrisp apples from our trip to Gordon Skagit Farms.  This week, I made 2 apple cakes for Recovery Cafe, an apple pie for home, and this chai cake for a meeting this afternoon.  #$&*!  I've been going through flour and sugar like nobody's business.  I'm not one of those folks who can't resist sweets.  I frequently make cookies, cakes, or pies that have to be given away before they go stale.  Not so with this cake.  I haven't been able to leave it alone.  I ate it for breakfast this morning, and now I'm eating it for lunch.

autumn incarnate

The scaffolding for this recipe is an Apple Raisin Cake from Gourmet, but I've completely mangled it beyond recognition. Same amount of eggs, flour, sugar, and oil.  That's where the similarities end.  I often do that with baked goods.  I'm not a good enough baker to start completely from scratch, but if I've got a basic recipe, I can go from there.  I've realized that, in life, I'm a tweaker more than a designer. I'd always prefer starting with something to the blank slate scenario.  Even in high school, the mandate "Write a five page essay" was infinitely more terrifying than "Write a five page essay on __________."

You don't need to haul your mixer out for this cake--just a few bowls and a wooden spoon.  And I didn't recommend a specific apple variety because I generally ignore what recipes call for and just use what I have.  Red Delicious is never my choice for anything, but beyond that, you pretty much can't go wrong.  And if you're not a spice lover, leave out the chai and you'll still end up with a delicious cake.  You don't have to glaze it, either--you can leave it plain or dust with powdered sugar.  See what I mean about tweaking?  It's fun.

chai spice apple bundt cake

We celebrated Yancey's birthday with his mom last night--took the train downtown with the kids, bought a bunch of brussel sprouts at Pike Place (Yancey's obsessed with them), and had an ambrosial dinner at Lola.  The most tender lamb I've ever had, braised escarole, garlic smashed potatoes.  Yancey and I met on his 16th birthday, so today marks 20 years that we've known each other.  Do you want to hear the story?  The short version?  Alright.  Twist my arm.

We were sophomores at Bellingham High School, in different honor's English classes.  Both classes crowded into a school bus together to drive down to Seattle and see Measure for Measure at the Rep.  Yancey and I ended up sitting together. Nothing like bench seats to start or end a friendship.  To be fair, I'd had my eye on Yancey for awhile, but we'd never had a real conversation.  We were in leadership class together (hilarious!), but he was always too busy with his senior cheerleader girlfriend to notice me.  Yes, cheerleaders were somehow eligible for leadership class.  At least Yancey and I were in student government.  (Not that I have any ire after all these years.  Ha.)

So we talked the whole way down, sat apart at the play (I remember scouting the theater for him, seeing him sitting with other girls and hating them), and sat together on the way back.  That's four hours of conversation.  He told me about his 16th birthday party, how his family and some friends were going to the Black Angus for steak.  My family had never been there, my Mom always maligned the place, but God.  How I wanted to be invited.  That didn't happen, but when I saw him the next morning at school, I could have sworn he emitted an "It- would -have-been-funner-with-you-there" vibe.

We have lots of anniversaries--our first kiss two years after the bus ride (yes, I waited through several more girlfriends), our wedding anniversary, our children's birthdays.  I like this one the most, though, thinking about me in my Birkenstocks and him in his acid-washed jeans, wondering what the hell we talked about for four hours, and wondering what my life would have been like without that bus ride.  Happy Birthday, babe.  I'm glad I don't have to wait around for an invite to Black Angus anymore.  I've got you all to myself now (though Loretta might beg to differ).

yancey and loretta

Chai Spice Apple Bundt Cake
If you don't have a bundt pan, I suppose you could try this in a 9x13...I happen to love my bundt pan, the way the cake slips out, how easy it is to cut, the circular shape.  I often see them at thrift stores.

For chai spice mixture:
4 peppercorns
1 1/2 ts. ground ginger
1 ts. cinnamon
12 green cardamom pods
1/2 ts. fennel seeds

For cake:
3 c. flour
1 ts. baking soda
1/2 ts. salt
2 ts. chai mixture
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 Tb. brandy or dark rum
3 large or 4 medium apples, cut into 1/4" dice
1/2 c. dried cranberries
3 Tb. candied ginger, finely chopped
1 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 Tb. flour

For glaze:
1 ts. chai mixture
3 Tb. strong brewed black tea (hot or cold)
1 c. sifted powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  If you have a convection oven (I do.  How I adore it.), bundt cakes are good things to use them on so the outside doesn't get a lot more done than the inside.  If you don't have convection, just watch it carefully.

Butter and flour a bundt pan.

To make spice mixture, remove cardamom seeds from pods. You should be able to do this pretty easily with your finger. Combine all ingredients in a mortar, and, using a circular motion pressing against the sides, grind the spices together.  You can also use a coffee grinder that is not used for coffee--i.e a spice grinder.  Set aside.

For cake, mix flour, soda, salt, and 2 ts. of the chai mixture together in a medium bowl.

Toss apples, cranberries, candied ginger, and walnuts together in another bowl with 2 Tb. flour.

In a large bowl, mix sugars, vegetable oil, eggs, and brandy.  Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Add apple mixture and stir until just combined.

Spoon into bundt pan and bake for about 60 minutes (maybe longer, depending on your oven), or until an inserted skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs on it.  Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a plate.

For glaze, whisk chai, tea, and powdered sugar together.  Spoon over cake after cake has cooled.