Candy Cane Brittle

Peppermint Bark II

So I'm a sucker for chocolate and peppermint. Sue me. 

And for all those folks who love to complain about Christmas coming too soon, you'd better start complaining about me, too. We already have our tree up. Me and Buddy the Elf are ready. It feels so good to be home, not in transition anymore, not living out of boxes. (Well, pretty much. Trying to be patient.)

I would rather die than go anywhere or purchase anything on Black Friday, but holing up in my kitchen or dragging out the art supplies is another matter. And my mom started a tradition, way back when, of always making some sort of special treat or cookie on tree decorating night. I come by it naturally.

There were many other things I should have been doing yesterday, but I spent a good portion of it getting ready for Tree Decorating Night. Vacuumed the rug, hauled out the plastic tote marked "Xmas," and had to go to two stores to get the ingredients for these little numbers. I was doing it all for Wyatt. Really. He goes NUTS over chocolate and peppermint. Like I've said before in your presence, there's nothing quite as motivating as seeing your kids love something you make. Wyatt really goes for it, too. He rolls his eyes, groans, get chocolate everywhere. It's pretty great. 

I'm keenly aware lately that these are the moments I will miss and romanticize as I grow older and into different seasons of life. Don't get me wrong--I'm dying to go to Greece and Morocco, sleep in every once in awhile, and actually get something accomplished during my day. But all of that is overrated. These moments, unwrapping all the Chrismtas ornaments or cleaning up the playdough, are the real ones. I'll miss the physicality of the kids' little limbs, the completely un-self-conscious way they love things like Christmas lights and peppermint bark. 

This is it, and it's breathtaking. I am blessed beyond belief.

Candy Cane Brittle
Adapted from Bon Appetit. I used to be down on BA after Gourmet went under. I didn't want to like it. But guess what? I can't help myself. The December issue got me out of a kitchen stupor. All of the sudden, I want to attempt everything and travel everywhere. And that inspiration is totally worth the subscription price. 

P.S. I get chocolate for stuff like this at Trader Joes. Their "Pound Plus" bars are the deal of the century. And apparently white chocolate is totally passé. So 1984. I actually had to look pretty hard to find some. I settled for a Godivia bar from the grocery store. I suppose you could go without it, but I like the contrast and the way it binds everything together.

1 lb. high quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. chopped candy canes, divided (I used 6 "regular" size candy canes, put them between parchment paper, and pounded them with a rolling pin)
1 c. chocolate wafer cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers), lightly crushed
2 oz. high quality white chocolate, melted 

Line a large baking sheet with foil. Stir bittersweet chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of shimmering water until melted. Stir in 1/4 c. chopped candy and all the crushed cookies; spread mixture over foil till it's about 1/4 " thick. Sprinkle the rest of the candy over, and drizzle with the white chocolate (which you've melted in the same manner as the bittersweet chocolate). Chill until set, about 30 minutes, and break into shards. 

Oatmeal Coconut Chews

Oatmeal Coconut Chews

I'm generally not a giant oatmeal cookie fan. I can be found, peering into the cookie case at any given bakery or cafe, stopping just short of asking the clerk to let me perform a biopsy on the poor cookie. When they're good, cookies are really good. When they're bad? A disappointing waste of calories. (Don't ever let this snottiness stop you from offering me a cookie from your kitchen. I adore eating other people's food, whatever else this blog might project.)

Last week, my father-in-law had knee replacement surgery. I asked my mother-in-law what I could do for them. She was in the middle of saying "Nothing, honey. We're fine," when Dick grabbed the phone and said, "Oatmeal raisin cookies!" So Loretta and I made a special delivery, and I made them again today for a picnic with Bethany at the remodel. And there were enough left over for a barbeque with my other father-in-law tonight. The kids are in bed, and I finally have a few minutes to myself, which I've been craving all day. I have a little internal pressure gauge, and since 3:00 pm today, I could feel it getting dangerously close to the red zone. I am in love with my life, but I'd go bonkers if anyone needed anything right now. 

What I needed was to be here with you. These cookies are EASY, as cookies should be, and depend on the high butter to oats ratio and watching them carefully so they don't overcook. If you're about to explode from all the people and details that need you, excape to a little corner, crouch down, and nibble one of these with an afternoon cup of coffee. It will be alright.

Oatmeal Coconut Chews
Makes about 3 dozen. 

3 1/2  c. old fashioned oats
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. unsweetened coconut chips
3/4 c. raisins
3/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. coarse bakers sugar

Preheat oven to 375 and butter two baking sheets (or line with parchment).

Stir together oats, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

Beat together butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add oat mixture until almost combined, then add coconut, raisins, and dried cranberries.

Form dough into balls (1 heaping tablepoon) and dip tops in baking sugar. Place aout 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake until golden and slightly underdone, 10-12 minutes. Let cool.

Perfect Shortcake

shortcake

This recipe came to me by a familiar route. My mom works with Gayle, who's an excellent, effortless cook with style to spare. Gayle made this shortcake and brought it to work, My mom died over it ("I've been looking for the perfect shortcake forever!") and Gayle brought her the recipe. My mom made it for me, I died over it, and my Mom brought the recipe over that afternoon. I've made it twice in the last 5 days. The first, with peaches, raspberries, and whipped cream, was for friends. This morning, they were biscuits with butter and jam, and shared with my niece Hazel.

I have always made classic biscuits for a shortcake base. I'm sure I'll do that from time to time. But the crumb on these little wedges is far superior for shortcake, soaking up the bright berry juices, and just sweet enough. And they couldn't be easier--a couple whirs in the food processor, then pressed into a cake pan and sprinkled with coarse sugar. I'm really into broiled eggs for breakfast lately, with chorizo or little coins of golden zucchini and lots of bubbly cheese. But this morning, I woke up thinking about shortcake. And the kids were glad.

Gayle's Family Shortcake Recipe
I suppose you could form these into about 6 individual cakes, but the dough is quite wet, so I'd advise sticking with a cake round for ease. I used a sharp knife or bench scraper to score the dough into 8 wedges before baking baking it. The lines will be faint when it comes out of the oven, but still very helpful for slicing it.

2 c. flour
2 Tb. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 cube) cold unsalted butter
1 egg
2/3 c. half-and-half
coarse baker's sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 450 and butter an 8" round cake pan.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut butter into about 8 pieces, add to flour mixture, and pulse until pea-sized clumps form.

Beat egg and half-and-half together and add to flour mixture. Pulse just until combined. Mixture will be quite wet. With floured hands, gather into a ball and press into prepared pan, building up the edges a little bit. Sprinkle liberally with baker's sugar and bake in preheated oven for 15-18 min until lightly browned and just done in the center. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing into wedges and removing from pan.

 

Strawberry Lime Popsicles

strawberry popsicle

Go berry-picking in the Lynden strawberry fields--the same ones you grew up picking in, dirtying your jeans and drinking warm soda at lunchtime. This time, take your children, who have no idea how completely these smells transport you.

When you get home, wash and stem an overflowing quart of strawberries. Put them in a blender or food processor with 1/4 c. sugar, the juice of two large limes, and a splash of water to loosen things up. Blend until very smooth, then pour into a popsicle mold. (I ordered mine on Amazon for about $12 and I love it. The popsicles pop out perfectly every time.) Freeze until firm, 2-3 hours. Makes six. (And makes you the block's most popular mother.)

Rhubarb Pie

rhubarb pie

Spring has sprung! Spring has sprung! Seattle is set to have its first 70 degree day tomorrow. Today was close, and it felt like heaven. Walking down to the train station, Loretta said, "I wish there were no clouds in the sky." I said, "I don't care. I don't care about anything else except this sun, shining down on us right now, and our trip to the farmer's market."

And I care about rhubarb. I always have. Growing up, we had a huge patch growing in our alley. My sister and I would take the sugar bowl out there, dip the ends, and suck to our hearts' content. Then there were my mom's rhubarb custard pies, rhubarb sauce, and the novelty of even knowing what it was in the 1980's. I can't believe it's $4/lb at the market. Mine--beautiful, bright red, unmarred--came from MacPherson's produce (and the back of someone's truck), and was under $2/lb. Do not get me started on how much I will miss that blessed, imperfect place. 

I'm going to make myself unpopular and say I'm tired of the strawberry-rhubarb combo. I've never felt rhubarb needs to share the spotlight with anything else, least of all strawberries, which don't come into season until six weeks later. Who needs those strawberries?! Not you and me. Just these bright, fat stalks, a little spring sunshine, and a light touch with the pastry dough. Gift after gift.

Rhubarb Pie
Again, my favorite quick-and-easy all-butter crust. If you don't have a food processor, you can definitely use your fingertips or a pastry cutter. Just make sure not to overwork the dough. And I've given pie tips here if you're interested.

Recipe and instructions for this pie crust (must prepare at least 30 minutes in advance)
10 c. 1/2" diced rhubarb
1 c. sugar
1/2. c. brown sugar
1/2 c. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Prepare pie dough. Roll out one of the discs and line a deep 9" pie plate with it.

Preheat oven to 425. Combine diced rhubarb, sugars, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla. Pour into prepared pie plate and spread it out evenly. Roll out the second disc of dough, lay it over the rhubarb, trim the overhang to 1/2", and then fold it under the fruit. Crimp the edges and cut three 1" slits in the middle of the pie for steam to escape.

Cook at 435 for 12-15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and cook for about 40 minutes more, until fruit is soft, juices are bubbling a bit, and crust is golden. If you have a temperamental oven, you might need to cover the crust edges with foil in its last minutes of cooking to avoid over-browning.

Buttermilk Orange Pecan Cookies

Pecan orange cookies 

I remember reading Molly Wizenberg's post,"CILTE" (Crap I Like to Eat). She hadn't cooked in eons, especially not anything blog readers would be much interested in. In fact, she was eating peanut butter sandwiches for every meal and generally finding herself with not an ounce of energy for kitchen creativity. At times like that, she said, she lists to herself all the things she likes to make and eat, reminding herself the world of food is still out there, still real, but just hibernating for awhile.

My CILTE list has always included these cookies. When it seems like my bag of tricks is empty, I've often thought, "There's always the orange pecan cookies. I can't believe I haven't trotted those out yet." Readers, I guess it's your lucky day. I'm pulling out what may be my last trick (until I scrounge for something tomorrow).

This is my great grandmother's recipe from Louisville, Kentucky. My mom made them for us many times growing up, and sometimes they'd even be warm from the oven when we came home from school. I've always intended to keep up the warm cookie tradition now that Wyatt is school-age, but I've only delivered a couple times. The timing is tricky, and I'm always pooped by 4:00. I admire her feat even more now.

These cookies are similar in texture to these all-time favorites--more like a mini cake than a cookie. Because they are not not too sweet, the icing is essential, and they are best eaten within a day or two after making them. Somehow, when I sit down with an afternoon cup of coffee and one of these, those after-school moments around the island in our family kitchen don't seem so far away.

Buttermilk Orange Pecan Cookies

Makes 3 1/2-4 dozen cookies. If you are allergic to nuts or just don't like them in baked goods, you can leave the pecans out. (Although I can't imagine these cookies without them, of course). It's important to watch these really closely in the oven, as with all cookies. You want the bottoms lightly browned and the tops just done. And wait to frost them until they are completely cool, otherwise you'll end up with a puddle of melted butter.

For cookies:

1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. unsalted butter
2 eggs
3 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tb. baking powder
1 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 c. toasted pecans
finely grated rind of one orange
1 tsp. vanilla

For icing:

juice of one large orange, pulp strained
3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350. Cream brown sugar and butter together in an electric mixture until smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add eggs, beating after each addition. Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder.

With mixer running, add buttermilk and flour mixture alternately in 3 additions each. Add one cup of the pecans, and mix until everything is just incorporated.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake until just done, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely before icing.

To make icing and finish cookies:

Beat orange juice, butter, and powdered sugar together until smooth. It may be a little bit grainy, but don't worry about it. If you're not ready to use it yet, put it in the fridge and stir every five minutes so it doesn't harden too much.

Generously spread each cookie with icing, and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 c. chopped pecans over the top.

 

Nanaimo Bars

 

Nanaimo Bars

Expletive. These taste even better than they look. I owe it all to Tara at Seven Spoons. She's bona fide Canadian and much more qualified to write about Nanaimo bars than I am. I grew up eating these. They were our north-of-the-border treat, something we got when we took the B.C. ferry to Victoria or went to the Vancouver Aquarium.  And they tended to show up at Bellingham potlucks in the 1980's (alongside the requisite buckets of fried chicken iceberg lettuce salads). When I saw Tara's photo, I literally gasped. My kids said, "What, Mom?!" And I said, "I have to make these cookies." So Loretta and I walked to the store this morning and got busy. I totally let her lick the beater, of course. I never heed the mommy blog warnings about raw eggs.

If you were one of the wonderful participants in the healthy eating class I taught this week at Rainier Health and Fitness, please do not lose faith in me. I still stand by everything I said--avoid white flour and too much sugar, overload your day with vegetables and whole grains, and maybe don't make these this week while you're practicing new, healthier habits. Because they will sing your name through the fridge doors.

A thick layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache on top, crunchy coconut-graham-pecan crust on bottom, and a layer of cheesecake in-between. Not the classic pudding-filled Nanaimo recipe (which is far inferior, I think).

Yancey's re-plumbing our house and emerged from the crawl space for lunch. Anyone else have husbands or partners who have been wearing the same work clothes for 15 years? I think it's smart and sexy--how does he know how to plumb a house?! It always amazes me. He watched me cut these up and stuck his fingers in to grab a little square. He pronounced them the best treats I had ever made. But now I'm annoying you, quoting my biased husband as some kind of credible critic. Definitely don't take his word for it. Make them for your next potluck and upstage the pasta salads and spongy chocolate chip cookies. I dare you.

Nanaimo Bars
Tara adds a bit of sugar to the ganache topping. I left it out because I prefer the topping more bittersweet. I used Ghiradelli 60% chips, which I love to have around for projects like this. Though there are a few steps to the recipe, it really isn't hard at all. Just make sure you line your pan with overhanging foil or parchment, or it will be frustrating to get them out of the pan. And I used regular graham crackers instead of chocolate ones for the crust because that's what I had around.

Recipe

Chocolate Orange Walnut Loaf Cake

Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake
I feel like singing a little tune. That's how easy and scrumptious this tender-crumbed cake is.

Another baby has been born in our family's world, and the kids and I delivered dinner this afternoon. I wrapped up only three quarters of this loaf for them. We had to sample it first. Quality Control.  Melissa Clark's recipe. Again! I love her style--conversational, practical, inventive. This cake involves just a bowl and a spoon, and ingredients I always have around--plain yogurt, eggs, chocolate chips, nuts. I subbed walnuts for her pecans because they were on hand, and added orange zest to the batter and an orange glaze while it was still piping hot. I love how the glaze settles in, getting sticky and shiny, running down around the sides.

Loretta and I had a rare morning together. She stirred the cake batter, and we made valentines while it baked. There were various preschooler demands later in the afternoon (More snack! I don't want to have a rest time!), but our 90 minutes of baking and crafting were divine. I listened again to John Kabat-Zinn recently, who says that children are like little zen masters, parachuted into our lives to push all our buttons and see how we'll respond. It's funny--I just came back from a work trip, and what I missed was all those buttons being pushed. In my better moments, I can stand back and say,"This craziness means my life is full. I am choosing the uncertainty, the ambiguity, the loose ends, and I'd be lost without them."

valentines

My valentine

Chocolate Orange Walnut Loaf Cake

1 c. sugar
2/3 c. plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2/3 c. (10 Tb.) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. toasted walnuts or pecans
finely grated zest of one orange

For glaze:
Juice and zest of one orange
3/4 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Using a whisk, whisk together the sugar and  yogurt. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until completely combined.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry mixture into the wet and mix until just combined. Using a spatula, fold in the melted butter a little at a time. Fold in the chocolate chips, walnuts, and orange zest.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make glaze. Using a whisk, combine orange juice, zest, and powdered sugar.

When cake is done, poke several holes in a it with a toothpick or skewer. Immediately pour glaze over the top and allow it to saturate the cake. It will pool up a bit at the edges--brush it back over the top with a pastry brush. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool to room temp before cutting it.

Fudgy Salted Brownies

Fudgy Salted Brownies

I cannot remember the last time I made brownies. Any faint memories I do have aren't good. Once, I made a giant double batch of Barefoot Contessa brownies and left the sugar out. Other times, the recipe has been disappointing--too dry, too wet, too sweet. A few months ago, my friend Abra asked for a good brownie recipe. I'm finally getting around to it, and these deliver. Big time. (Poor Yancey had to endure me preening all night).

They take a few pantry staples--lots of butter, flour, plain old cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate--and turn them into something that will have you sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night. They have a thin layer of crackle on top, fissuring to reveal a dark, chewy density. Really, the perfect brownie.

I've (again) drastically cut down my sugar and fat intake the last few months. So when I sat down with one of these and a cup of coffee this afternoon, I savored every sweet, fudgy, salty morsel.

Fudgy Salted Brownies
You won't be surprised that this is adapted from a Melissa Clark recipe. She includes a pinch of cayenne, which I didn't for the sake of children. And I covered half the batch with flaked salt and left the other half plain. I can imagine lots of other additions if you want to experiment--bits of candied ginger, cinnamon for a Mexican chocolate version. I happen to have a 9x13 baking sheet (quarter sheet) which is my workhorse for bar cookies. If you make cookies a lot, I suggest spending the $10 for one. If all you have is a 9x13 baking dish, that will work too.

2 sticks + 2 Tb. unsalted butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. plus 1 Tb. cocoa powder
2 1/2 c. sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tb. vanilla extract
Maldon salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. Line a rimmed 9x13-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a microwave or in the top bowl of a double boiler, melt together the buttter and chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Meanwhile, combine the flour and kosher salt in a medium bowl.

Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth.Fold in the dry ingredients and continue folding until no lumps remain.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle all over with the Maldon salt. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top is set and shiny. Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan before cutting into 2x2-inch squares.

Salted Maple Thumbprint Cookies

Salted Maple Walnut Thumbprints
I buy one or two cookbooks a year. Of course, I spend hours coveting them and poring over the cookbook tables at Elliot Bay. But, in the end, I'm very careful about what I bring home to our 750 square foot house, getting most recipes online or tweaking what I already have. I love what Christopher Kimball says--that most of us absolutely do not need more recipes. We just need to keep practicing what we know and slowly get better and more experimental. Sorry, folks. There's no shortcut.

BUT (you knew this was coming, right?), I just bought a new cookbook that makes me want to storm into the kitchen. It's Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. Almost everything in it can be made in under an hour, and is so bursting with flavor that you'll be wiping the drool off the pages. And wondering, "Why didn't I think of that?"

The annual Christmas baking day with my mom and sister is coming up, so the first thing I tried was these cookies. OMG. They don't look like showstoppers, but watch out. I gave them away to several people, and some reluctantly took one off the plate, like, "Well, I guess. There's no chocolate involved, but I'm bored and slightly hungry." Then their eyes would widen and I could have the self-satisfied moment I was waiting for.

Am I posting about Christmas cookies already? I guess I am. Em sent me this Christmas pledge, which I posted on my bulletin board:

  1. To remember those who truly need my gifts.
  2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents.
  3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family.
  4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas.
  5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends.

Here we go. Bring it on, Season of Light.

Salted Maple Thumbprint Cookies
Melissa doesn't instruct you to chill the dough, but I recommend it. It's quite soft and you might have trouble with the cookies spreading if you don't.


3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 c. pure maple syrup
2 large egg yolks
12 oz. walnut halves
Fleur de sel or other coarse salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and kosher salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add 1/2 c. of the maple syrup and the egg yolks, and beat until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Chill dough for 30-60 minutes.

Using a Tb., drop dough, 3 inches apart, onto two baking sheets. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each round of dough--as deep as you can go without pushing through. Bake until the edges are just golden, 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

While the cookies are cooking, prepare the maple glaze. Place the remaining 1/2 c. maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer the syrup until reduced to abut 1/3 c., 7-10 minutes. Carefully spoon the glaze into the thumbprint of each cooled cookie, then place a walnut and a sprinkle of salt on top. Allow the glaze the set, at least 10 minutes, before serving.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

You know--the classic Thanksgiving dessert--key lime pie? This pie has saved me a million times. It is too easy to even talk about. Going on and on, trying to convince you of its simplicity, would be more complicated than you just getting out a can of sweetened condensed milk and making it already.

I made a Thanksgiving dinner for our foursome last night, which is a newish tradition I've inflicted on myself. We are always (thankfully) with large, rowdy groups on Thanksgiving, and I'm part of the potluck like everyone else, bringing salad, rolls, sometimes dessert or appetizers. But because of travel, never the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, or yams. Yancey will be working at the station this Thanksgiving, so I wanted to have a little celebration together before the ol' Divide and Conquer sets in. I had planned on not making a dessert, but just couldn't go through with Thanksgiving dinner without pie.

Enter Key Lime Pie. 20 minutes, plus some chill time in the fridge, and just the thing to brighten a dark day. Wyatt juiced limes, I whizzed graham crackers in the food processor, and my trusty pantry supplied sweetened condensed milk.

After dinner, full of blistered brussel sprouts, a classic sausage and apple stuffing, and very buttery mashed potatoes, we cut the pie. I'm not accustomed to eating when I am so full. It's that bloated, strangely comforting"It must be Thanksgiving" feeling. I won't wish you "Happy Thanksgiving" yet, because I plan on posting again before then. There are too many things to be thankful for--they get their own airtime.

Key Lime Pie
Adapted from Gourmet. Of course, my version doesn't have key limes in it. I used Persian (regular) limes like I always have.

For crust:
1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (from nine standard size crackers, or one of the 3 pkgs in the box)
2 Tb. sugar
5 Tb. unsalted butter, melted

For filling:
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
6 Tb. fresh lime juice

For topping:

3/4 c. very cold heavy cream
1 Tb. sugar
zest from 1/2 lime

Make the crust: Put a rack in the middle of hte oven and preheat to 350. Butter a 9" pie plate.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until well-combined. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 way up sides of pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes, take out of the oven, and leave the oven on.

Make the filling and bake the pie: Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until well-combined. Add juice and whisk well (filling will thicken slightly). Pour filling into crust and bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely and put into the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Just before serving, whip the cream and sugar together until it just holds stiff peaks. Spread pie with cream or top each serving with a dallop and a bit of lime zest.

Note: If you want to make this ahead of time (1 or 2 days), don't put the cream on it. Do that right before you serve it.

Peanut Butter Coconut Bars

peanut butter bars
For a few years now, these have been my go-to cookies. (Alright. One of them.) You can almost make them in your sleep. In fact, I've often been half-asleep, standing at the mixer at 11:00 pm, making cookies for a potluck I forgot about or a school bake sale I foolishly agreed to contribute to. Peanut butter (the bad, hydrogenated oil kind), coconut, butter, maybe some chocolate chips. They're what I like to call "sleeper cookies," in that they look disappointingly dull.  Like, "Who made those for the bake sale?" No one will swoon when you walk into the room with your Saran wrap-covered platter.  But they'll be your BFF after that.

Maybe you can bring these to the Halloween party you forgot about. Growing up (and this is a long story I won't tell), our family was one of those weird ones that had harvest parties instead of going trick-or-treating. So I am bound and determined that my children will go trick-or-treating, get as ghoulish as they want, and dive into the ridiculousness of Halloween with gusto. And if that means cookies and candy, so be it.

Peanut Butter Coconut Bars
Adapted from my Gourmet cookbook. You really do want the bad kind of peanut butter here, not the good-for-you, stir-it-up kind. Other than that, these cookies are a blank slate. I've made them without the coconut, subbed oatmeal for the coconut, added chocolate chips or not, put salted peanuts on top or not. The best pan to make them in is an aluminum  1/4 sheet (half the size of a regular baking sheet). If you don't have one of those, a  9 x 13 will work.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2  cup white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut or oats (or 1/2 and 1/2)
1 c. chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup finely chopped salted roasted peanuts for the top (optional)


In a bowl with an electric mixer cream the butter with both sugars and beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Add the peanut butter, beat the mixture until it is combined well, and beat in the egg, the vanilla, and the salt. Add the flour, beat the mixture until it is just combined, and stir in the coconut and/or oats, and chocolate chips. Spread the mixture evenly in a buttered jelly-roll pan, 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 1 inches, sprinkle the peanuts over it (if using), pressing them into the mixture lightly, and bake the mixture in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let the mixture cool completely in the pan on a rack, cut it into 24 bars, and cut each bar in half diagonally to form 2 triangles if you want (I usually don't.)

Halloween Bark

Halloween Bark
Yesterday, I was doing an interview for some client work. 30 minutes, me and a stranger in a corporate conference room.  I asked how her morning was going, and she said she was having a hard day.  Then she said, "When I go home at night, there's my daughter and a new puppy to play with, and I remember what matters. This is just work." She teared up a little and, since my tear ducts are connected to everyone else's, I teared up too.

I thought of her today, making this CRAZY sugar-packed Halloween treat.  I had one of those days that makes me feel nuts--"home" with the kids, but forcing Loretta to take a nap so I could make my conference call in time, distracted and anxious, wishing the day had 12 more hours in it but wanting it to end all at the same time. Then Wyatt came home from school, the promised Halloween treat-making ensued, and I HAD to stop what I was doing, be present to them, and remember what really matters.

Of course, it all matters, even the small stuff we're not supposed to sweat. Don't you hate it when people tell you not to sweat the small stuff? If you're sweating it, it's probably big. But there are some things that matter more than others--my seven-year-old sidling up and rubbing my back, my preschooler snuggling with me in the morning, destroying the kitchen by smashing up peanut butter cups and getting chocolate everywhere. The rest? It's just work.

Halloween Bark
Adapted from Bon Appetit. You could, of course, use so many other things on top of the chocolate--nuts, coconut, different kinds of candy bars, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit. This, clearly, favors the preferences of children, for whom absolutely nothing can be too sweet. I won't tell you how much I ate after they went to bed last night. All candy bars are the "regular" size--not king size or mini.

1 pound bittersweet chocolate chips
2 Butterfinger bars, cut into irregular pieces
3 Heath bars, cut into irregualr pieces
8 peanut butter cups, cut into 8 wedges each
3 oz. high quality white chocolate, chopped
couple handfuls Reeses's Pieces

Line a baking sheet with foil.  Heat chocolate chips in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring frequently, until melted and warm (not hot) to the touch. Pour chocolate onto foil; spread to 1/4" thickness (about a 12"x10" rectangle).  Sprinkle with butterfingers, toffee, and peanut butter cups, making sure everything sticks to the melted chocolate.

Melt white chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring frequently, until melted and warm (not hot) to the touch. Remove from heart. Dip spoon into chocolate, wave from side to side over bark, creating zigzag lines. Scatter Reeses's Pieces over, making sure it sticks.

Chill bark until firm, about 30 minutes. Cut or break bark into irregular pieces.

Feasting in this House of Cards

Pumpkin Cookies

It's Pumpkin Cookie Time. I'm surprised it's taken me until October 14 to make them, actually. Of course, canned pumpkin is available any ol' time, so there's no real reason to wait for fall, except that I'm traditional that way.

I posted this recipe a year ago, after I got home from a milestone solo retreat. After it all got sorted out, I hung out the shingle for my consulting practice, launched a website, and put the nails in the coffin of "Little Sarah," as Kathy says. It's a long story, potentially self-involved, but really wonderful in its way. The short version is this: I have gifts to give in the world, and it's time to give them. Hanging back for fear of failure doesn't serve anyone. And that story is getting old.

These cookies never get old. Starting with Loretta's preschool has helped me realize that everyone--not just our family--is juggling a million things, hoping some little breeze doesn't come along to blow down their house of cards. In the middle of constant change and uncertainty (I know you have your own story), there is this decades-old ritual: opening the Libby canned pumpkin, turning the mixer on, watching the brown sugar icing turn glossy. We might as well eat well in this house of cards.

Comfort Me with Cake

Apple Bundt
If hours in the kitchen are an ebb and flow, it's ebb time around here. Burritos, rice, tuna melts, an apple distractedly cut and distributed, groceries ordered online at midnight. Thankfully, miraculously, I'm busy with work. When I'm not doing it, I'm thinking or dreaming about it.

Or taking a cake-baking break . Baked this for a fundraiser last weekend, and it was sold in minutes. (Horn-tooting! My own horn!) Then I came home and regretted not having any for myself. So I made this version, kid-friendly, without nuts or chai or those meddlesome dried fruits. Now I'm working in the library, dropping crumbs all over my keyboard, scheming about getting back to the kitchen. It comforts me just to think about it.

Apple Bundt Cake with Cinnamon Glaze
Fall in a slice. Gone in a flash.

For cake:
3 c. flour
1 ts. baking soda
1/2 ts. salt
1 ts. cinnamon
1 ts. ground ginger

1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 eggs
4 Tb. brandy or dark rum
3 large or 4 medium apples, cut into 1/4″ dice

For glaze:
1 c. sifted powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tb. milk or cream (+ a little more if needed)


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.

Mix flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, mix sugars, vegetable oil, eggs, and brandy.  Add flour mixture and mix until just combined.  Add apples 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 powdered sugar and milk together, adding a little more if needed. You want it so it's just barely pourable. Spoon over cake after cake has cooled.

Apple Vanilla Slab Pie

Apple Slab Pie

My parents came down to watch the kids last weekend because Yancey and I both had to be gone overnight for work. It's pretty hard to overstate how much it means to me that they will drop what they're doing (neither of them are retired), drive down here, and save me repeatedly. The very least I can do is have something delicious they can snack on.

I hit the ball out of the park with this addictive number.  A flaky rectangular crust, folded onto itself around Golden Delicious apples, drizzled with icing after it's cooled. The crust-to-fruit ratio was much more to my liking than the traditional shape, and you can eat it with your hands--i.e. if you've got your bag and flip charts in one hand, the other is being pulled by your preschooler to exclaim over her tower of blocks, you can still manage to shove this in your grateful mouth. I ate it for breakfast, of course.

The apples came from Sarah and Dan's tree--small, imperfect Golden Delicious that had an absolutely fabulous flavor. I've also made apple crisp and applesauce this week. My kids have started begging for something other than an apple for snack. Let autumn come.

Golden Delicious

Apple Vanilla Slab Pie
Adapted from a recipe for brandied apricot slab pie in Fine Cooking. I know I've eschewed Crisco before on this blog. Please take almost everything I say about food as a TEMPORARY opinion, always subject to change. All-butter crusts are still my default, but, oh my.  Flakiness Central here. You definitely need to refrigerate it for at least 90 minutes before rolling it out. I found getting a rectangular shape was much less forgiving than a round one, and had to patch things up a bit. In the end, the patching didn't affect the final product at all (especially with your friend Icing to cover imperfections). And this crust recipe makes a bit more than you'll need, but that's good--to make a rectangle, you'll need to trim the edges anyway. You could definitely use Granny Smith apples here, but I really love the vanilla-like sweetness of good Golden Delicious. And that there's no cinnamon in this pie. Gives it a whole different flavor. And one more thing--the photo is only HALF of what this recipe makes--it fits just barely on a standard baking sheet.

For dough:
3 1/2 c. flour
3 Tb. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. (2 cubes) + 2 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cut into 18 pieces
3 Tb. cold vegetable shortening, cut into 3 pieces
1/3 c. ice-cold water

For filling:
4-5 c. thinly sliced Golden Delicious apples (about 8 small or 6 medium-large)
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tb. flour

For assembly:
1 egg
1/2 c. sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tb. heavy cream or whole milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the dough:
Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and vegetable shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 10 to 12 pulses. Sprinkle 1/3 c. cold water over the mixture and pulse until the dough just starts to come together, 8 to 10 pulses more. If the mixture seems dry, add more water 1 tsp. at a time. Do not overprocess.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and gather it into a rectangle that's about 8 by 12 inches. Flatten slightly, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

To make the filling:
Combine thinly sliced apples with sugar, flour, and vanilla. Gently mix.

To assemble and bake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1 tsp. water.

On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dought into a 1/8" thick, 12x18 inch rectangle. Be sure to loosen the dough several times and reflour underneath so it doesn't stick. Trim the dough into an 11x16" rectangle and transfer it back to the baking sheet. Turn the baking sheet so that a long side faces you, and brush the edges of the dough with the egg wash. Spread the apple filling evenly over the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1/2" border. Fold the top half of the dough over the filling, pressing along the edges to secure the sides. Press lightly along the edges with the back of a fork to seal. Brush egg wash all over the top of the dough. Using a paring knife, cut 5 small steam vents in the dough at about 3-inch intervals.

Bake until the pie is golden brown, 45-55 minutes. Cool completely.

In a small bowl, mix the powdered sugar, cream, and vanilla to form a smooth glaze that's just fluid enough to drizzle. With a spoon, drizzle the glaze over the top of the pie. Allow to set at least 2 hours before serving.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

slice-of-heaven

We are still friends if this is what you're thinking right now: "*&#$! I have a real life. I don't have time to stand at my stovetop slaving over caramel sauce or hunt down fleur de sel from God knows where. Who does this girl think she is?!" I understand. That's me, half the time.

My parents were on their way from Leavenworth to Bellingham, and I said I'd make a birthday dinner for my Dad. My Mom offered to buy a cake from Macrina. I thought about taking her up on it, but I wanted to make something. That's how it goes with me--every once in awhile, I crave something a little more technical, something I can brag about on Facebook and give myself a big ol' pat on the back about. In spite of a very busy Saturday and Yancey being on shift, I managed to pull it off. Priorites, I guess. My kids can watch cartoons all day, and I'll be in the kitchen with my candy thermometer, cursing under my breath and hoping my investment in expensive salt and chocolate pays off. Put another $20 in their therapy fund.

I'm pleased to report that all the cursing and parental neglect payed off. My parents closed their eyes in rapture at first bite, and my Dad pronounced it the best chocolate cake he's ever eaten. And this is a man decidedly not prone to any kind of hyperbole. My Mom and I have that territory covered. How wonderful, to sit around the kitchen table, dying over my cake, Loretta's constant chatter as the backdrop and full from cioppino (recipe soon). Happy Birthday, Papa. I love you.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake
This is from my Baked cookbook, which Jordan gave me for my birthday last year. I'm directing you to my friend Dana's recipe, since she has done all the work of transcribing it already. (Can I call you my friend, Dana? We have yet to meet.) Follow all her warnings. And this warning from me: make sure your frosting is completley cooled before you start beating in the butter!! Mine was a little warm still (impatience is my biggest flaw, in cooking and in life), and my ganache ended up being much runnier than I would have liked. Thankfully, I was able to remedy the issue by putting it in the fridge for 30 minutes, stirring it every 10 minutes so it didn't harden too much. AND I found my cake did much better being refrigereated before cutting. Good luck! Tell me all about it.

Recipe

Zucchini Pecan Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

cake for karl

There is nothing dramatic about this cake. A simple 9 inch round, one bowl to mix it in, getting crazy with a little cinnamon in the traditional cream cheese frosting. In other words, my kind of dessert.

golden round

The sort to make for a weeknight dinner guest. Our longtime friend Karl is leaving Seattle by way of a 'round the world trip. Of course he's endured his fair share of Eat, Pray, Love jokes, but he's in a different category, I assure you. The category of working to get through grad school, getting a job helping homeless folks find housing, and now risking like crazy to leave all that. We are going to miss him, and nothing says, "Don't forget about us!" like food. He requested puttanesca for dinner and this cake was (surprise!) concocted based on my produce drawer. (By the way, if you're interested in a spot-on commentary on the whole Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon--i.e. "How was that trip funded?!"--click here. I love it when the author says that most of us need to have our epiphanies in the middle of everyday life. Or in the middle of sheer survival.)

For Karl, on his grand adventure. May he, with joy, be thrown into the highs and lows, the sights and smells, the loneliness and companionship that such a trip can bring. And for the rest of us, on our grand adventures. Maybe it's making a cake for the first time. Maybe it's saying "no" to something we've always wanted to refuse. Maybe it's settling into the very UNadventurous reality of our own lives and--miracle of miracles--being content there.

frosting

Zucchini Pecan Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
I love that this cake uses olive oil instead of vegetable oil to moisten it. Like the recipe says, don't use extra virgin. I usually have some milder stuff around for uses like this. I love the very slightest hint of depth it gives the cake. If you don't have a mild olive oil in your pantry, I'd sub vegetable oil before you throw in an expensive extra virgin variety. And I didn't have a 9" pan with 2" sides, so used a 9" springform instead. It worked beautifully.

Recipe

Apricot Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_9477
I brought a big tray of these cookies over to to my friend Kathy, hoping they might help feed all the family and friends that had descended on her house after Bud's death. I met some of the family later at the memorial service. I positively beamed when they asked me for the recipe and recounted how they had all stood over them exclaiming and how there were none left. I suppose it helped me feel that, in some small way, I had lightened the load just the tiniest bit. Cookies are good for that sort of thing.

And I did promise the recipe. You, faithful readers, will not be surprised that it's simply an adaptation of my Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies. Macrina makes a similar version, but I am going to be completely audacious and sacrilegious by saying I think these are better. Pride comes before a fall. I'm now ensuring that the next 10 things I cook will utterly flop.

Still thinking about you every second, Kathy. And about how Bud tended to gobble up whatever baked goods I made. I'll miss that.

Apricot Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies
Even if you're not a huge dried fruit fan, I'm betting you'll like the dried apricots in these. The chocolate balances out their sweetness, and they lend a wonderful chewiness. And the espresso powder (available at lots of decent grocery stores--I buy the Medaglia D'Doro brand) adds a depth that your grateful tasters might not be able to put their finger on. Super important to LET THIS DOUGH REFRIGERATE FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES or the cookies will flatten out too much.

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 ts. baking soda
pinch salt
3 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 cubes (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1 ts. vanilla
1/2 bag semisweet or 60% chocolate chips (Can add more if you want.  This is how I get two batches out of one bag)
1 c. coarsely chopped dried apricots


Preheat oven to 350.  In medium bowl, combine flour, oatmeal,sugars, salt,baking soda, and espresso powder. Add egg, egg yolk, melted butter, and vanilla, stir once or twice, then add chocolate chips and dried apricots. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes to firm it up.  Place balls of cookie dough on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, and bake for 9-10 minutes.  Take them out while they still the tiniest bit underdone.  Once they sit for 15 minutes, they’ll be just right.

Make This, and I'll See You Soon

crisp

Oldie but goodie. Kitchen Sink Crisp. I rarely make a crisp that's just one fruit anymore. It's far more useful to use up whatever is lying around. This one, made for a wonderful summer birthday party in Sue's yard last night, is made with peaches, blueberries, and plums. The secret is the stay-crunchy topping, cooking it long enough for that syrupy-sweetness, and not skimping on the flour in the fruit.

I'll be offline for a week. I've been re-reading one of Jack Kornfield's books, in which he says,"The first task, then, in almost any spiritual voyage, is to quiet ourselves enough to listen to the voices of our hearts, to listen to that which is beyond our daily affairs. Whether in prayer or meditation, in visualization, fasting, or song, we need to step out of our usual roles, out of the busy days on automatic pilot. We need to find a way to become receptive and open." Wherever you are in your summer frenzy, I hope you're finding a way to step back. See you soon.