Wednesday, June 26, 2013


A few years ago my nephew and sister interviewed my Mom, asking her questions about many things, including how things were when she was growing up. One of the things I remember from her answers was her description of food shopping in New York City. She lived in the Bronx in an apartment and this was before there were super markets. Instead of a huge store with all kinds of foods for sale, there were lots of small stores that specialized in meat, staples like beans and rice and flour and sugar, fruit and vegetable sellers, and so on. She mentioned that people generally didn't bake much because it was so convenient to by baked goods at bakeries. The exception in her family was pies. Her mother apparently made great pies. I think she inherited that skill because my Mom makes exceptional pies. My Dad's favorite dessert was always fruit pies, with the fruit changing according to what was in season.
I enjoy making pies, too, especially small pies. It isn't that I don't enjoy full sized pies, but there is something winsome about a personal pie, sized just for one. Sometimes I make mini-galettes, a kind of open faced little freeform pie, made without a pie pan. Sometimes I use a tart pan and make small tarts. A favorite is hand pies where you fold the dough over the filling and seal it...and it is always a small pie to fit your hand. Today I made some mini-galettes and one hand pie (although the hand pie was a bit larger than usual).

I used the apricots that Sweetie bought out on Highway 12 from the strawberry farm for some of the galettes. I used some plums from our tree for others. The hand pie had sliced strawberries from that farm near the Grange.

They all had 'moondust' on the bottom to soak up the fruit juices that are released when the fruit heats up.

It's a combination of almond flour and amaretti crumbs which give a nice almond accent to the fruit, plus flour and sugar. It's one of the secrets from Chez Panisse. When baking the galettes or hand pies, it's also helpful to use a baking or pizza stone if you have one because, for these small pies, the crust is just amazing! It's tender, buttery, and flaky. If you bake the pies on the hot stone in a hot oven the bottom crust is also nicely crisp.

When I was a girl and wanted to learn how to make pies, the first thing I had to do was to read about 6 pages in The Settlement House Cookbook on making pie crust dough. Then my Mom quizzed me on what I had read. That may seem like a bit much, but , truly, pie crust dough making is all about technique. Too much working of the dough and it gets tough. Too little water and it is hard to roll out. Too warm a water and the butter starts to change consistency, so you lose the flakiness. I like this Galette Dough recipe from Chez Panisse because they divide the butter and cut 1/3 of it in very fine for tenderness, then cut in the rest so that butter pieces are larger, for flakiness.

This crust is phenomenal. If you follow the recipe carefully you will have mini-galettes (or a large galette if you prefer) that everyone will rave over. If you pack them carefully you will have an excellent dessert for any picnic or for 4th of July gatherings. For the 4th you can combine white peaches, blueberries and raspberries for the fruit. Just remember to make extra because one barely seems like enough...they are that good! You can even think fondly of my grandmother when you bake yours...I do.

Now don't be shy. You can make a cherry pie, or an apricot one, or peach, nectarine, raspberry, blackberry and so on. It's the perfect time of year for it and here is the perfect recipe.

Fruit Galette
An open face tart/pie with fruit filling, from Chez Panisse Fruit

10 oz. galette dough, rolled into a 14-inch circle ( or into 4 6-inch circles for mini galettes), and chilled (see recipe below)
1/4 cup almond-amaretti powder (see recipe below)
1 1/2 pounds ripe fruit, single or a mixture.
                Apricot, nectarine, peach, plum, pluot, apple, cherry, or any kind of berry are all good
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place a pizza stone, if you have one, on a lower rack.
Remove the prerolled dough from the refrigerator or freezer and place on a buttered or parchment-lined baking sheet. Evenly sprinkle the almond-amaretti powder over the pastry, leaving a 1 1/2 -inch border unsprinkled. (For mini-galettes, leave about 1 inch unsprinkled.)

Cut the fruit in half, quarters, or slices, making sure to remove any pits. Peel fruit if desired. Arrange the fruit (skin side down if there is skin) in concentric circles on the dusted dough, making a single layer of snugly touching fruit pieces and leaving the border bare.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over the fruit evenly. (For the mini-galettes, use 1 tablespoon sugar, sprinkled, for each of 4 mini-galettes.) (Note: my fruit was so ripe that I used about 1/4 teaspoon per mini-galette.)
While rotating the tart, fold the border of exposed dough up and over itself at regular intervals, crimping and pushing it up against the outer circle of fruit, creating a containing rim that resembles a length of rope. Pinch off any excess dough. This rim must act as a dam, preventing juices from escaping while cooking, so make sure there are no folds or wrinkles that would permit such a breach. Brush the border gently with melted butter and sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons of sugar. (For mini-galettes, create the rope border, as described above, for each one, brush with melted butter and sprinkle each with 2 teaspoons sugar.) (Note: I didn't create the rope, just folded the dough into pleats as I went around the galette.)

Bake in the lower third of the oven, preferably on a pizza stone) for about 45 - 50 minutes (25 - 30 for the mini-galettes), until the crust is well browned and its edges are slightly caramelized. As soon as the galette is out of the oven, use a large metal spatula to slide it off the baking sheet or parchment paper and onto a cooling rack. This keeps the pastries from steaming and getting soggy. Let cool for 20 minutes.

If desired, glaze the tart by brushing with melted, strained jam or jelly. Apricot or apple is traditional for light fruits, raspberry or currant for darker fruits. Let the glaze set before serving the tart(s).
 Almond-Amaretti Powder (Moondust)
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup amaretti, pulverized

Toss all the ingredients together. Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, this keeps for a few months. One galette uses 1/4 cup (1/4th) of this recipe.

Galette Dough
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
7 tablespoons ice water

Follow the directions carefully. This is one of those recipes where the technique and quantities really affect the outcome.
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of the small dice of  butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, mixing until the dough resembles coarse cornmeal. (Butter is dispersed throughout the flour in tiny pieces makes the dough tender.)

Cut in the remaining 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the small dice of butter with the pastry blender, just until the biggest pieces of butter are the size of large peas - or a little larger. (These bigger pieces of butter in the dough make it flaky.)

Dribble 7 tablespoons of ice water (that's 1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon) into the flour mixture in several stages, tossing and mixing between additions, until the dough just holds together. Toss the mixture with your hands, letting it fall through your fingers. Do not pinch or squeeze the dough together or you will overwork it, making it tough. Keep tossing the mixture until it starts to pull together; it will look rather ropy, with some dry patches. If it looks like there are more dry patches than ropy parts, add another tablespoon of water and toss the mixture until it comes together.

Divide the dough in half, firmly press each half into a ball, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, pressing down to flatten each ball into a 4-inch disk. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. (The dough will keep in the freezer for a few weeks.)

When you are ready to roll out the dough, take one disk from the refrigerator at a time. Let it soften slightly so that it is malleable, but still cold. Unwrap the dough and press the edges of the disk so that there are no cracks. On a lightly floured surface roll out the disk into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Brush off excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush. Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour before using. (the rolled-out circles can be frozen and used the next day.)

Makes about 20 oz. dough, enough for 2 open galettes or tarts or 1 covered tart or 12 mini galettes.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Veggie Skewers and Pluot Appetizers

This has been a great week for the farm box. There were ears of fresh, sweet, juicy white corn. There were multicolored Gypsy pepper, sort of like bell peppers, but with a thinner wall. There were amazing ripe apricots and pluots, plus two kinds of squash, fingerling sweet potatoes...I know...who knew sweet potatoes could be tiny and super sweet, plus a lovely honeydew melon, and Nantes carrots. Probably the perfect farm box for late spring...and very inspiring, too.

We used the Gypsy peppers and the squash for veggie skewers to go with the yummy Persian flatbread that I made as part of the Bread Baking Babes challenge for June. I used some Meyer lemons that a friend had just given me in the dressing for the veggies and it added just the right bright note. Sweetie cooked them on the grill just long enough to char them here and there, but not so much that they had a soggy texture (a problem sometimes with squash).

A few days later I sliced that same flatbread very thin, brushed each slice on both sides with olive oil, and Sweetie grilled them so that they crisped up. I used them as the base for an unusual appetizer inspired by something similar I had at the Camilla Tea Room in Benicia. Fresh, ripe, juicy pluots ( a cross between an apricot and a plum, but you could use plums instead) are cut into a small dice and doused with balsamic vinegar. I added a touch of cardamom as a counterpoint to the sweetness. Once the mixture marinates for at least 1/2 an hour you spoon some onto the toasts. Chopped, toasted walnuts are sprinkled on, lending a toasty crunch. Blue cheese bits are crumbled on as a nice contrasting zing to the pluots. It has it all...crunchy, sweet, sour, salty, toasty, nutty and zingy from the cheese. Quite a mouthful of delight.

Who knows what recipes the next farm box will inspire. The recipes below are written so that you can size them for the number of people you are serving. Have fun and, if at all possible, use fresh, local produce.

Pluot or Plum Bruchetta

Very thin slices of flatbread or focaccia (about 3 per person)
olive oil
1 pluot or small plum per person
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar per pluot or plum
dash of cardamom per pluot or plum
1 teaspoon chopped toasted walnuts per pluot or plum
about 1 tablespoon blue cheese crumbles per pluot or plum

Brush the thin slices of bread with the olive oil on both sides. Grill or toast each slice until toasted and crispy. Let cool.

Finely dice the pluot(s) or plum(s). Place in a non-reactive dish and add the balsamic vinegar and the cardamom. Stir to combine. Let sit for at least 1/2 hour or up to 4 hours.

When ready to serve the bruchetta, place a slice on work surface. Spoon on the plums with a slotted spoon, leaving some space on the bread slice for the walnuts and cheese. Sprinkle with the walnuts, then the cheese.

 Serve at once. There will be about three slices per person.

Veggie Skewers

wooden skewers - two per person
veggies cut into chunks...I used zucchini squash, pattypan squash and Gypsy peppers, but you could also use fresh corn on the cob, cut into chunks, cherry tomatoes, or any other veggie that will thread onto a skewer.
Marinade for two people:
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 1/2 hour.

While skewers are soaking, mix together the marinade in a non-reactive bowl and add the veggie chunks. Stir to coat the veggies. Let veggies marinate, stirring occasionally, until you are ready to grill them.

Thread the veggies on skewers, leaving room at the bottom (for holding) and top (so veggies won't fall off the top). Brush with the marinade and grill on one side until charred. Turn to other side, brush with marinade, and cook until desired doneness.

Serve at once.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bread Baking Babes Bake One For Summer

It's the time of year for cooking out of doors, with today in the U.S. being a big one...Father's Day. I was hoping to bake the June Bread Baking Babes bread, Nan e Barbari in the Weber but that didn't happen. Maybe next time. Our Kitchen of the Month hostess, Elizabeth of blog from OUR kitchen had us gather around the BBQ to make a lovely flatbread topped with seeds.

One of its virtues is that it can be started and baked the same day, plus it is an easy bread as long as you don't mind a very slack dough. Another virtue is that the slack dough, very hydrated, lends the finished bread a nice spongy texture with big and little holes, making it perfect for sopping up the last of the juices on the plate from whatever you made for dinner. Although my plan was to make lamb meatballs and veggie kebabs, in the end we had left over pot roast with delicious mushroom/red wine pan juices, plus the veggie kebabs (which will show up in the next post).

 Sweetie really enjoyed using pieces of the bread to soak up the rich sauce and he said he really liked the chewy texture, too.

I could see thin slices of this bread being toasted and used for bruchetta, too. It has a wonderful mellow flavor. So gather together some yeast, water and flour, plus a few seeds and some baking soda. Fire up the grill or oven and make it. Then get your Buddy badge by sending an e-mail to Elizabeth with a photo of your results and a few words about your bread baking experience.

I'm sending this to Yeastspotting, too. Susan of Wild Yeast hosts this weekly round-up of delicious yeasted breads and things made with them. Check it out!

Also, please visit the other Bread Baking Babes to see their take on this delightful flatbread. Links are on the right in the Web version of this blog.

Thank you Elizabeth for choosing this yummy flatbread for June...perfect for warm weather and the food that goes with it!  Here are Elizabeth's instructions, with some comments from me in Italics. By the way, I'm posting much later than I had thought I would because our daughter came over with her boyfriend and we went out the Sturgeon's Sawmill for Fathers' Day under the redwoods. I think they will be open again later in the summer, or in early fall. It's a great place to visit and to see how lumber used to be milled. Check it out if you are able to get to western Sonoma County this around September 14th or 15th.

Nan e Barbari (Persian flatbread)
based on Lida's recipe for Barbari Bread at

This is a same day bread. It takes 4-5 hours at most to make.

5 gm (~1.5 tsp) active dry yeast
360 gm (1.5 c) water, at 90F (32C)
60 gm (~0.5 c) 100% whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
360 gm (~2.75 c) unbleached all purpose flour (I used and additional 2 tablespoons of flour)
6 gm (1 tsp) salt
nigella seeds (or black sesame, poppy, sesame seeds) (I used sesame seeds)

1/2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
160 gm (2/3 c) 80 gm (1/3 c) water

1. Mixing the dough Pour the water into a largish bowl. Whisk in the yeast.

2. Add the flours, baking powder and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

3. Kneading: Turn the dough out onto an UNfloured board. Wash and dry the mixing bowl. Please do not be tempted to skip this step.

4. Using both hands on either side of the dough and thumbs resting on the top in the center, lift it up and flip it over in the air before plopping it back down on the board. Fold the dough in half away from you as you plop the dough down. Keep repeating until the dough is smooth. Every so often, use the dough scraper to clean the board. Stretching the dough is desired on the turns. But this won't start happening right away. (Please look at this video for clarification.)

5. When the dough is smooth, place it in the clean mixing bowl (there is no need to oil the bowl). Cover the bowl with a plate and leave in a draft-free area to rise to double.

6. Prepare the sauce: Whisk flour, baking soda and water in a small pot. Bring it to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

7. Pre-shaping: Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Scatter a light dusting of flour on the board and gently remove the risen dough onto it. Don't worry that the dough is quite slack. Cut the dough in half. Form each piece into a ball and place well apart on the cookie sheet. Cover with a clean tea towel followed by a plastic grocery bag and allow to rise to double in a draft-free area. (about an hour)

8. Final Shaping: Brush each round with the sauce. Really slather the sauce on. It will keep your hands from sticking to the dough.

9. Dip your fingers in the sauce and dimple the rounds down to form two ovals with lengthwise furrows. (Please see photos below; also see photos on the right side of the page at

10. Liberally brush ovals with the sauce once more and sprinkle with nigella seeds. Allow the ovals to stand for about 30 min.

11. Baking: Put a stone into the barbecue and preheat it to high. Before putting them onto the stone, pull each oval with your hands to lengthen it. Wet your hands so they won't stick to the ovals and pull the dough from the bottom with your palms facing downwards. (Please see photos below; also see photos on the right side of the page at

12. Put the lengthened ovals onto the hot stone. Move the stone over to cook the bread on indirect heat. Close the barbecue lid. Every so often turn the bread around to account for uneven heat in the barbecue. Cook the bread until it is golden (about 15 minutes).


1.) Water: Please do not use water from the hot water tap. Instead, heat the water in a kettle or microwave (to create lukewarm water, add cold water until it is the correct temperature of 90F (32C). If you are allergic to using a thermometer, you can do the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist.) Please note that before the yeast is added, the water temperature must be BELOW 120F (49C) because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.

2.) Baking Powder and Baking Soda: Some of the other BBBabes said they detected a chemical flavour from the baking powder and/or the baking soda. If you're worried about it, it's probably safe to omit them entirely to let the yeast do all the leavening and the flour and water in the sauce (Romal) do all the caramelizing. (I used the baking soda in the sauce, but no baking powder in the bread...seemed fine.)

3.) Mixing: I always mix by hand, because we don't have an electric stand mixer. If you usually use your stand mixer to mix and knead, go to town and do so. But bear in mind that making this bread by hand is not only traditional, it's dead-easy and may well add flavor. Lida notes that if you are using a bread machine, you should add the main ingredients in the order suggested by your bread machine manual and continue to follow the manual instructions for mixing and kneading the dough. If you are determined to get your money's worth out of your electric stand mixer, I suspect that at least one of the other BBBabes has left instructions on her site about how to mix and knead using the machine. Then skip to the "pre-shaping" step. (I used my stand mixer because I was lacking patience worked just fine with the addition of 2 more tablespoons of flour.)

4.) Baking: If you do not have a barbecue, this bread can be baked in a conventional oven. Lida suggests baking it in a preheated 375F (190C) oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown. (I baked it in a 400 degree oven on a preheated baking stone, sliding the parchment with the shaped bread on it onto the stone. I baked them for 20 minutes each, baking the loaves one at a time.)

Serve the bread warm.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Country Roads and Cookies

The drive to my friend's home to make mosaics a few days ago took me along many of the roads I drove to work for over 20 years, out into the west county. Narrow two-lane roads, often with no shoulder at the side at all, wind their way past apple orchards and redwood groves, over rough places where there are either patches or potholes. At this time of year the grasses on the verge have turned to shades of pale gold. Here and there you can spot some bright orange California poppies nodding in the breeze. It's hard to drive by the hillside where Max died, especially in summer. I miss him. Once school was out he used to come with me. A friend of his lived not too far from where I worked, so he would spend the day with Mark and I would pick him up after work. It reminds me of our dog Xam, too. He loved to come with me, even though he would spends hours in the back of the SUV. I only took him when I worked a half day. He would get a walk in the woods when we arrived, then another one after two hours and a final walk when we were ready to drive home. I know he spent a lot of time asleep, but he slept during the day at home, too. If I had the office to myself, he could be in the office, where he slept most of the time, too. I think he actually liked the car better. There was always a large bowl of water and some toys and something to chew on. The car was usually parked in the shade of the tall redwoods and he could see the birds and squirrels making their forays in the trees when he was awake. He was such a great dog and a good companion. Even though we love Pi, I still miss Xam.

Roads are the original reason for milestones; a way to mark the passage of distance. Today I celebrate a few milestones that mark the passage of time and, perhaps, dedication. This is the 790th post on the blog and yesterday Feeding My Enthusiasms passed 200,000 pageviews! When I started writing and taking photos and trying out recipes in 2006 I never thought how it would feel, down the road, to know that there is some interest out there in the blogosphere for my kind of musings and food. It feels almost like a hug. Very glad that y'all have enjoyed it, and I hope that some of these recipes are being made in your kitchen. It does take a bit of time and effort to create one of these posts, but then cooking and baking also take time and effort and the results are gone pretty quickly most of the time. I guess over time I'll associate these posts with fond memories, much as I have come to associate country roads with so many good times in days gone by, as well as fine times today.

We have been working this week on the new entry and today put together the first wall framing! Sweetie is the genius behind it all and I've become a pretty good helper. Windows and doors are ordered and today we also worked on the interior plans. Looks like we will be having some beadboard wainscoting...I really like that look.

If you are the praying type like I am, please say a few for two wonderful women I know who are in the process of dealing with cancer. If not prayer, good thoughts are always welcome. They both have great spirit, so I'm pretty sure that their battle with the disease will be successful, but it never hurts to pray...or send good thoughts.

Well, enough catching up...on to our recipe. Todays' recipe is for a cookie that I have been meaning to make for a long time. Our daughter worked after school and on the weekends when she was in high school to earn money for college, plus some to spend on fun stuff. For a couple of years she worked for a cookie company! My favorite was a white chocolate macadamia cookie. You would think that I would bake that kind since I liked it so much. Well, I never did, until yesterday. I think the cost of the nuts put me off. Macadamia nuts have a very hard outer husk and apparently it is costly to process them. The nuts themselves have a buttery quality which goes really well with the mild chocolate flavor of white chocolate. I added some regular dark chocolate chips in, too, because I can. These cookies spread a bit, so leave some room between cookies. They are also a bit thinner than traditional Toll House type chocolate chip cookies, with a little chew to them. Don't forget the vinegar...I think it contributes to the great texture. Give them a try! They would be perfect to take along on a picnic down some country roads.

Classic Macadamia White and Chocolate Chip Cookies
based on a recipe at King Arthur Flour website Makes about 33 cookies

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 (4 oz.) white chocolate baking bar, chopped
1 cup (8 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped lightly

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment or a silicon baking mat) two baking sheets.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, oil, sugars,  molasses, vanilla, and salt until smooth.

Beat in the egg to combine. Beat in vinegar. Beat in the baking soda and baking powder and as soon as they are beaten in add the all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour, combine thoroughly, then add the white chocolate chunks, chocolate chips and macadamia nuts. Stir with a silicone or rubber spatula to make sure mixture is thoroughly combined.

Drop the dough, by tablespoonfuls, onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes, until the cookies are an even golden brown, without any hint of softness in the center. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

If you have enough left, store in an airtight container for, at most, a week.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stormy Weather

Glad we buttoned up the new construction on Sunday because in the wee hours of Monday morning we had a huge thunder and lightning storm, followed by rain. Pi was frantic. I guess the noise is really awful for dogs. Xam used to have the same reaction. First there is the barking, as if warning off whoever is making those 'bowling' noises. Then comes the whimpering and shaking, probably from fear as the flashes continue and the noise gets louder. It went on from about 12:30 am to a little after 6 am. I think I was awake for about four hours of that. At one point we were all bundled up on the bed, trying to comfort the dog. I heard on the news that there were 400 lightning strikes in our area during the storm! According to the old timers, we rarely get a thunder storm that lasts longer than about an hour, so 6 hours is some kind of record.

The weather today was much different...low 80s and sunny. Today I joined a friend for some 'broken plate' mosaic fun. We worked in her garage, with a nice breeze blowing through. It was a welcome break from working on the entry construction and kitchen planning. I almost finished a table top in shades of blue and green, with a little butter yellow here and there and a few pops of terra cotta for contrast. I'm hoping to use it on the deck off our bedroom as a place to hold a mug of coffee or two in the morning and maybe a glass of wine or two in the evening. Sweetie already bought two chairs to go with it. It should be ready to using in a few days, so I'll post a photo then.

I brought the salad for our lunch today. Romaine lettuce is OK for me, even though I would prefer mesclun, so I threw together a bunch of bite size romaine leaves, some sliced celery, chunks of cooked chicken, chopped toasted pecans, sliced fresh local strawberries and a sprinkle of blue cheese. It was refreshing and just substantial enough. My friend provided iced tea and some nice toast spread with her own lemon curd. It actually went well with the salad, probably because of the strawberries in the salad. For dressing my friend's hubby and I had blue cheese dressing and my friend had honey mustard. This is a great salad for strawberry season, but you could substitute peaches or plum later in the year and I know that pears rock in this salad...but use walnuts instead of the pecans.

Strawberry Pecan Chicken Salad
Serves 4

6-8 cups romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and cut or torn into bite sized pieces, chilled
2-3 stalks celery, washed and sliced
1-2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite sized chunks
1/2 pint strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles or small pieces
dressing of your choice, but blue cheese and honey Dijon work well

In a large bowl combine the lettuce, celery, chicken, strawberries and pecans. Toss to combine. Serve on large plates or salad bowls. (Photo at top is up to this point, with no blue cheese on top yet, or dressing.) Top with the blue cheese to taste. Dress lightly with preferred dressing and serve.

You can make a few hours ahead and keep chilled. If you know those eating the salad love blue cheese, you can toss it in with the rest of the ingredients, otherwise pass the cheese with a spoon so each can add as much or little as desired.

Monday, June 10, 2013

NoHandle's Two Cookies

Cookies A or Cookies B? And what is the difference between the two kinds of cookies? Read on as Guest Blogger NoHandle explains all.

Myth Busting in the Kitchen
With this blog posting, you will be getting two recipes for the price of one (They pay?). Several years ago I encountered a myth (in an email) that told of a woman who liked the cookies at a Nieman Marcus coffee shop in Dallas so much that she wanted the recipe. They put the charge on her bill, “two fifty”, which turned about to be $250, rather than the $2.50 she expected. As the story was told, she decided to publish the recipe over the then-new Internet as revenge for the charge. Tom, a friend of mine from Dallas assured me that the Nieman Marcus store there had no such coffee shop, so it must be a hoax, and so it was. The recipe however looked like a good one, and I decided to try it out one day. Well, the day is upon us.

There is another little wrinkle; Neiman Marcus decided this was a marketing opportunity, and published their own, somewhat different recipe on the Internet, which they give away for free, as they do all of their recipes. I thought, “Why not try that one too, and see which was better.” So, it's a contest. By the way, the details of this urban myth can be found on and several other sites. The old recipe came from my archives, but you can find that online too.

From a baking perspective, there is nothing special about either recipe. You cream the butter, combine the dry ingredients and add the chocolate. They are then drop cookies, although one recipe flattens them (and I consider this optional). Some of the ingredients are the main differentiator.

The $250 Cookie
The original (urban myth, 1980s) recipe is notable for the variety of its chocolate, and perhaps the processing of the oatmeal. Apart from that and the story, it is fairly ordinary.

Processing the oatmeal is simple, just drop it into the blender and turn it on to about medium speed. Let it run for a few minutes, until the consistency is like a very coarse wheat flour.

Grating chocolate, on the other hand, can be a bit challenging, but keeping it chilled in warm weather helps. Wrap the doubled bar in a paper towel, and grate with a box grater. Warmer chocolate will yield long strings; colder chocolate produces small chunks and powder. The latter mixes better in this dough. I also used an extra ounce of chips, since I had them from the later recipe. I'm glad I did.

Here is the grated chocolate, ready for the recipe

I strongly recommend a stand mixer for both the creaming and combining the final dough. I was (barely) able to mix everything together with a strong hand mixer, but I would have used a stand mixer if I had one. I just don't do enough of this kind of cooking to justify one. The other, and cheaper, accessory I would recommend is a scoop for portioning the dough for the individual cookies. I haven't found one I like yet. The next recipe calls for one.

Going back to the mixing, with all the dry ingredients and the relatively small amount of moisture, this is a very stiff dough, even though it spreads in the oven.

Even with a stand mixer you will need to scrape the sides of the bowl a time or two.

Cookie A
(This is the halved recipe; which was plenty for me. The larger size may have been intended to make it appear as a recipe for a larger operation): 

1 cup butter (two sticks), softened

1 cup granulated sugar 

1 cup brown sugar 

2 eggs 

1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour (I favor unbleached)

2½ cups oatmeal, blended 
(see below)
½ tsp. salt 

1 tsp. baking powder 

1 tsp. baking soda 

2 oz. chocolate chips 
(left over from the recipe below)
½ of an 8 oz. Hershey bar (grated) 
(The Extra Large Hershey Milk Chocolate bar is now 4.4 oz.; I used that)
1½ cups chopped nuts (your choice; I used pecans)

Put oatmeal in blender and blend to a fine powder, the consistency of [very] coarse flour.

Pre-heat oven to 375 F. Cream the butter and both sugars.

Add eggs and vanilla; mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and soda. These should be sifted or mixed together in advance.

Add chocolate chips, Hershey bar shreds and nuts. Roll into sub-golfball sized balls and place two inches apart on a cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, until browned at the edges. Place on cooling rack.

Makes 56 cookies.

With all that butter, you would think that you wouldn't need to grease the cookie sheet, but we would be wrong. A spritz of cooking spray for each batch helps. At this temperature the sugar sticks to the pan. The cookie coming out of the oven has flattened itself, and is not very cohesive. Wait for a few minutes before removing them from the sheet onto the cooling rack.

Neiman Marcus Strikes Back

The later (Neiman Marcus, 1995) version is even more conventional, and a bit smaller size (I didn't need halve this one). It has fewer, and lighter, ingredients, lacking the oatmeal and with only half the butter and eggs, and a lot less sugar, but adds a bit of instant coffee powder for flavor, and bakes longer in a cooler oven. Espresso coffee powder is less common these days, but is available in your average grocery.

This too is a straightforward recipe to follow. Cream the butter and sugars as usual, if goes very quickly if the butter is soft enough, and a bit slower if it is still somewhat chilled. Then add such wet ingredients as there are, an egg and vanilla extract. Follow with the flour with the baking powder and soda mixed in. You can use a hand mixer for this much with no problems. This mixture is not as stiff as the above recipe. The expresso powder happens to be the contents of one serving, at least for the powder I used. Depending on your taste, you may want to dial this back to one teaspoon of the powder. I found the full amount a bit over the top. At this point, I added a cup of coarsely ground pecans (not in the recipe), to match the earlier recipe, and because I just like the flavor. The mixture is stiff now, but not as bad as above. Finally add the chocolate chips and stir, either with the hand mixer on low, or with a wooden spoon. That's it.

I spritzed the cookie sheet before the first batch, but didn't need subsequent greasing. Now use the cookie scoop, heavily loaded to portion out the cookies. I broke down and bought one at Crate and Barrel, and I was glad I did. It was much easier and faster than using spoons to do this. I did not smash them down, and I am happy with that decision as well. The result is a much prettier cookie than the earlier recipe. They look like chocolate chip cookies are supposed to look. The texture is nice too, with a nice crispy bottom and chewy interior.

Cookie B
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. Vanilla extract
1¾ cups all-purpose flour (again, I favor unbleached)
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1½ tsp. Instant espresso coffee powder (I used Folgers Fresh Breaks Black Silk)
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (9.4 oz.)

Preheat oven to 300 F. Cream the butter with the sugars until fluffy using an electric mixer on medium speed (approximately 30 seconds).

Beat in the egg and vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.

In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and the chocolate chips.

Using a 1-ounce scoop or 2-tablespoon measure, drop cookies onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2-inch circle.

Bake for about 23 minutes, or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispy cookie.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

And the Winner Is!
This is a tough decision. There are a number of dimensions to the question of which is the better cookie; appearance, texture, mouth feel, and of course taste. Lets call the $250 recipe cookie A, and the Nieman Marcus recipe cookie B.

Cookie B wins on appearance, yielding a fairly fat cookie with a nice distribution of chips visible. Cookie A is thin and almost lace-like, with thin or empty areas among the cookie lumps.

I like the texture of Cookie A a bit better. I think it's the oatmeal. The same goes for the mouth feel.

The taste is harder still. I liked the strong chocolate flavor of Cookie B, but it is almost too strong. Cookie A is more balanced, and brings out the pecan flavors better. The butter flavor is nicer too.

So for me Cookie A is the best, but don't take my word for it, try them both yourself and leave your comments with your choice.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Cakes in the Morning

A good, well-made plain pancake is a delight. Gilding the lily with blueberries is common, but then adding cooked bacon and chopped pecans is not. You might want to try it...the combination is amazing! Sweetie claims they are the best pancakes ever.

Blueberry Bacon Pecan Pancakes
based on a recipe for plain pancakes in The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

1 egg
2 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon since the butter was salted)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup cooked, chopped bacon
1 cup (about) fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Whisk the egg with the water. Set aside. Melt the butter over low heat in a small pot. When melted, add the milk, stir to combine and let cool. When cool, whisk in the egg mixture.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the chopped pecans and bacon. Add the butter/milk/egg mixture and stir until just combined. If too thick, add a little more water.

On a preheated, greased skillet or griddle, over medium-high heat, place enough batter for a 4 -5 inch pancake. Top with some of the blueberries, pushing the berries down into the batter a bit. Repeat to fill the skillet or griddle. When small bubbles form around the sides of each pancake, turn the pancake and let the berry side cook until dark brown. Remove pancakes to a plate as they finish cooking. Continue cooking until all of the batter has been used up.

Serve while hot with real maple syrup. We didn't need extra butter with these, but you could if you prefer your pancakes that way.
Serves 3 - 4.

This poppy self-seeded from last year...and it's a beauty!