Category Archives: Cookies

The Village

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Fifteen people helped me function normally yesterday. I probably only know ten of their names, and I’d only really call five of them friends, but nevertheless, these days, all 15 are essential. See, I broke my collarbone on the Fourth of July. It was a classic bike accident—despite enough city riding to have a solid awareness of the problem, I fell for the old bike tire in the railroad tracks trick—but it’s left me with 3 good breaks and a not-so-classic problem: how does one cook with just the non-dominant hand?

The truth is, I haven’t been cooking. Or typing for more than ten minutes at a time, or exercising, or lifting my 44-pound child, or putting him into the car, or getting him out of the car, or bathing either of us if not absolutely necessary. This was all well and good when my husband was home, mostly waiting on me, but he’s off to sea again, so I’m either begging for help or learning to do things a little differently. Here are the fancy things I can do with just my newly promoted right hand: open jars (if braced properly between my hip and the counter), pick herbs off their stems, pour wine, slice cheese badly, make scrambled eggs, help my son pee on someone’s lawn because I can’t carry him inside in time, clean up after my cat’s mousing habits, put on anything with an elastic waistband, sit in a boat holding liquor while other people drag crabs off the bottom of the ocean, use an ice cream scoop, win at corn hole, pick up my telephone.

Here’s what my right hand can’t handle: cracking eggs, writing, wiping my child’s face, helping my child walk, pulling my child’s pants up, putting on make-up. When I’m alone, I just deal; I do things that I probably shouldn’t, like make my son’s lunch, or cut a nectarine, or put on sandals with two hands, or (the worst idea ever) dry my hair. But watch out; if you walk into my home’s general vicinity, you’ll get nabbed. Which means that yesterday, for example, members of the fantastic crew rebuilding our basement helped me get my kid into and out of the car. My neighbor’s daughter came over to water the garden, cut food and do dishes, put Graham’s shoes on, get him into the car while he threw a tantrum, and then later, when he finally sacked out, carry him into bed. One friend undressed my child for swimming lessons; another redressed him when the lessons were over. Graham’s therapist put on his shoes, and the preschool teachers helped me navigate transportation details into and out of his school. Mark carried my coffee when my useful hand was full. The baristas at Top Pot offered me ice for my injury. Whole Foods made me lunch. Jackie wiped the construction dust out of my house. And later, when Graham was finally asleep, I poured the rosé all by myself.

Today will be a totally different cast of helpers. Richie will probably get the kiddo into the car again—hear hear, Moms, hire a builder who’s had six kids—and the process will start anew. I’ll go back to the coffee shop where the barista knows how to put my barrette in, and to the gym, where I’ll ask a random old lady to help me put on my clothes in exchange for her bad collarbone stories. Tami will bring dinner and Dan will wrangle 3 kids at bath time. JJ, a guy I’ve never met, will pick up the tile for the downstairs for me, because it would be silly to lift all 3,000 pounds’ worth when I can’t drink out of a Nalgene bottle with either hand, and my in-laws will collect a week’s worth of laundry to take back to their place, because, naturally, the washer and dryer in the basement are disconnected and the plumbing is a bit spotty these days.

The whole experience has made me feel like a tornado of need, traveling through every village of friends that’s ever helped me, leaving a trail of appreciation and debt two (left) arms wide and three dinners deep. And since, for me, the path to paying it forward has always started in the kitchen, it feels like a rather irresponsible way to live.

Curiously, breaking my collarbone hasn’t seemed to impact my whining ability in the slightest. I seem to tolerate alcohol just fine, and I’m perhaps a bit better at sitting still to watch sports (although now that the Tour de France has finished, I may consider rescinding that claim). But two weeks ago, when the novelty of breaking what shouldn’t break was still all new and shiny, I was being very tough and resilient. Which is why, five days after my all-too-dramatic crash, but two full weeks before I could comfortably type, I made cookies.

I’m not normally one for contests, but Drew laid it out flat: this wasn’t a bake-off. This was a “cookie on,” because no one was allowed to enter unless they promised to get their cookie on for reals. I’d committed to entering the week before the Fourth, when Drew—another patient with (much more severe) cerebral palsy at Graham’s therapy center—had announced over her sparkle-tied Chucks that I was invited to join.

When I was out flat after the Fourth, slathered between ice like a freshly-caught salmon while my family stripped the basement naked in preparation for all that construction, I privately resigned from the contest. But the day before the cookies were due, I saw Drew again. She’s a gorgeous, spunky, bright-eyed, smartly dressed kid heading into 7th grade at the top of her class. She has severe cerebral palsy. She’s still learning to talk, walk, and write. Yet somehow, despite unimaginable obstacles, she cooks. She has major opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t. And she wanted me to enter. How can you tell a girl who can’t stand at a counter that a broken bone is stopping you from turning on an electric mixer?

Good butter

I started with 3 sticks’s worth of butter, because it meant opening a single large package of butter instead of multiple smaller ones. I weighed instead of measuring wherever possible, because my right hand’s dexterity hadn’t yet gone through its latent puberty. It was so awkward. I made a hell of a mess. But in the end, I wound up with crunchy, chewy cookies with the tang of summer cherries.  I was satisfied.

My entry was the first on the cookie table the next day. Graham and I left the therapy center, and I waited. And waited. I never got to see the other cookies, but I felt like I’d made a good specimen. But alas, among the plethora of categorized prizes available—prettiest cookie, best-named cookie, tastiest cookie, etc.—I got nothing. Well, except an honorable mention, for Best One-Armed Baker.

I get it. Nothing beats a Husband Getter. (When Stephanie tells me what exactly a Husband Getter is, perhaps I’ll be able to explain why she won.) I never tasted that, or what Drew made, or what Drew’s mom made, but they were apparently all wayyyy better than mine. I’m working hard to avoid losing confidence over a cookie-baking contest instigated by a 12-year-old. And I get that I should have added chocolate, even if it might have meant figuring out how to axe into a block of Callebaut with my non-dominant hand.

But what I also get, as I dole out lumpy scoops of dough every other day from the bucket in the refrigerator when the need for a cookie calls, is that no matter how annoyed I get about needing and asking for help, I’m both lucky to be whole and lucky to have a village. And I understand that I’ll have ask and ask and ask for help, and be okay with it, until this whole episode is over, which, someday, it will be.

And some day, when I’m all patched up and she’s perhaps a little older, I’ll ask Drew how she does such a good job giving back with just her smile, and how she’s okay with not giving back sometimes. Because if there’s ever a contest to get your gracefulness on, or to get your spark on, or to get your ability to inspire people 25 years your senior on, those are the ones she’ll win.

Super-Powered Cherry-Millet Oatmeal Cookies (PDF)

These cookies have a distinct advantage over every single other cookie recipe I’ve made before: they can be made with one hand. My apologies if you don’t have a scale to measure out the dry ingredients properly. You’ll understand, I hope, that since Hogwash is about food and life, there is naturally a category for recipes made with a broken collarbone.

If you have the pleasure of the use of both of your arms AND a food scale, add a couple handfuls of chopped dark chocolate to the mix right at the end.

Makes: About 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
350 grams/12 1/2 ounces all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
150 grams/5 ounces old-fashioned oats
100 grams/3 1/2 ounces raw millet
1/2 pound dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whip again on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the mixer in a few separate additions, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add the oats, millet, and cherries, and mix on low until evenly distributed, scraping the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or a big cereal spoon), form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are browned but the centers are still light. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, transfer to racks to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough.

Cookies are best eaten the same day.

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Filed under Cookies, gluten-free, grains

A different kind of resolution

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie 2Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie batter

I know, I know. February is a little late to be telling you about my resolutions. But I really stink at resolutions, which is why I don’t make them. Or it may be, just perhaps, that I stink at January. Case in point: I exercised twice in January. Since January 1st, I’ve managed to bring home a stomach flu, a sinus infection, a torn (and re-torn) intercostal muscle, and more candy than my home has seen since Halloween of 1987. I’ve turned an assignment in late for what might be the second time in my life—yes, I’m that person—and made some pretty awesome mistakes emailing incorrect files for big projects. January is when I mess things up, apparently.

Buying a juicer will make it all better, I’m sure. At least, that’s the theory, which is why there’s now a gleaming mammoth of a thing sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s been churning out delicious combinations and elixirs meant not to replace the vegetables in my diet—there are usually plenty of those—but simply to introduce new flavors and textures into my diet. To notice vegetables in a different way. And to help me pay attention to what I eat for breakfast, because my three-year-old has been talking me into Rice Krispies an awful lot recently. Occasionally, though, the thing is a little threatening. You’re being too healthy, it whispers. My goal isn’t to lose weight. My goal is to pay attention to what I eat, rather than eating blindly.

The theory—one I call Better Late than Never, or Better Something than Nothing—also includes paying attention to the smaller things in my diet. Like, well, gluten. I’ve been off the stuff for about 18 months now, and every once in a while, I need to be reminded why I’m doing it. Eating gluten makes me feel meh, a bit hungover, but it doesn’t actually make me sick. In January, I ate a croissant one day, and a bowl of pasta the next, and, not so surprisingly, I felt off but not terrible. I began to debate eating gluten again. For convenience. For easy dining outside my house. For really good croissants. Then someone published a story in the New York Times Magazine that articulated perfectly what I myself was told about how gluten causes things like lupus, and I remembered why I’m avoiding it: I’m avoiding it for me, not to make things easier on other people. Since then I’ve been darn near perfect about the gluten thing. So. On to bigger and better offenders.

February is also when I pay attention to my diet because it’s American Heart Month. You know, the one where you’re supposed to wear red a lot and remember that there’s this big beating beast inside your chest that keeps you alive. Theoretically, said beast does a bit better with a little less salt, which is why someone somewhere picked now to release a beautiful book called Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook. I think that’s great for hearts everywhere. But what the title doesn’t say—and what makes the book important to me—is that it’s written by Jessica Goldman Fuong, my San Francisco food writer doppelganger, which means it’s also good for kidneys. She also has lupus, and she, even more than me, has a deeper-than-normal relationship with her kids. (Hers have names, people. Frank and Stein. I’m so jealous she thought of that first.)

The book is a foray into really spunky low-sodium cooking for people petrified of putting down the shaker. It’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to junk food that won’t kill you, or more specifically, her or me—things like buffalo wings and homemade ranch dressing—and a funny, quirky guide to relearning how to cook. (There’s even a full-page Janet Jackson reference.) And most importantly for me, the book is a wake-up call. It reminds me that even after a rough January, when I spent so much time sick because my new lupus drug clobbers my immune system, I sometimes forget to watch what goes into my mouth.

So when I turned to my north kitchen wall yesterday—the one where I sneak recipes up under the rolling pin hanging there, to remind me at all times of the little tastes I want to try—and found one for salted peanut butter cookies, I swooned. (Wouldn’t you? Peanut butter cookies with a ton of salt in them? What could be better?) Then I reconsidered. Technically, I don’t need to eat a low-sodium diet. But with two kidneys always working overtime, it’s probably a bit better for me to steer clear of the extra-salty stuff. And of course, I’d need to make the recipe gluten-free. These are by no stretch diet cookies, but they are better for my diet than what I’d normally make. And these are the changes I want to make at home. Little improvements. Sustainable, kidney-hugging improvements.

The original recipe—from a forthcoming book called Malts and Milkshakes by Autumn Martin, of Seattle’s Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery—is from someone whose recipes I trust completely. I knew Autumn would nail the right chewiness, and the right vanilla flavor. But I didn’t know whether I’d miss the salt.

So I tinkered. I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend , and I added oats for staying power, and because my husband is a sucker for oatmeal cookies and was about to board a plane for Chile. I added chopped peanuts for some of the peanut butter, because I wanted a bit of crunch. I added a bit more leavening, because I wanted them to rise and fall, so they had a bit of crinkle on top.

Then, the strangest thing happened: I meant to decrease the salt from 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (!) to just 2 teaspoons—still a huge amount of salt for someone on a low-sodium diet but, in my salt-pickled mind, a conscious effort to lower the sodium—but I plum forgot to add any salt at all. And you know what? Between the salt in the peanut butter, the baking soda, and the baking powder, these cookies are delicious and still, strangely, salty. I’m not sure I’d give one to Frank or Stein, but I’d give one to you.

I would, I said. But I can’t. Half of them are at 38,000 feet, somewhere between Miami and Santiago, and the some came with me to feed a gaggle of 3- and 4-year-olds and their associated moms. And the rest of them? I’m saving them for my kidneys, who will someday also have names. I’m not dieting, but I’m trying to treat those kids a little better every day.

Editor’s note: The cookies have made it through customs. You were worried, I know.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie stack 1

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
This recipe, adapted from Autumn Martin’s Malts and Milkshakes, makes tender, chewy cookies with a bit of staying power. You want the kind of tan that comes with an unexpected sunny day in February on these cookies, not the kind you work for at the beach; even a shallow ring of toasty (as opposed to light golden) color will turn these from chewy to crispy. Pay attention.

Time: 15 minutes active time
Makes: About 3 dozen 2-inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup natural low-sodium creamy peanut butter
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle once or twice. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla and peanut butter, then mix on medium speed until well blended. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing on low speed between each until no white spots remain. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chopped peanuts and oats.

Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon measure, form the dough into 2 tablespoon-size balls and arrange them on the baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies.

Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and very pale golden brown around the edges. (You don’t want them to actually brown.)

Let the cookies cool 5 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer carefully to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining batter.

Store baked, cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 5 days.

Note: I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, gluten-free

Something to try

Smoky Spruce ButtercrunchSmoky Spruce Buttercrunch

I have an announcement to make: I have a new favorite flavor. It’s related to chocolate – what great foods aren’t? – and it comes from a tiny little sweets shop a couple miles from home. Friends, I am officially in love with smoked chocolate.

It’s not something I could have predicted, because typically, I’m almost completely anti-smokiness. I’m not a particularly avid fan of smoky barbecue. I can’t stand smoked cheeses. Smoked sausages? No way. But once the wisp of an alderwood fire crosses over to the sweet side, it seems like my taste buds forgive and forget.

I first tasted smoked chocolate in chocolate chip cookies from Hot Cakes, a newish sweets shop in Seattle run by Autumn Martin, the pastry genius once behind the confections at Theo Chocolate. When I was writing Dishing Up Washington, she gave me her recipe for smoking chips in a cold smoker, and together we adapted it so anyone with a standard-issue grill and the kind of box boots come in could replicate her cookies at home. But then. Then. Then she put her smoked dark chocolate chips up for sale, and suddenly it seemed perfectly reasonable to spend $15 on what amounts to less than a grocery store-sized bag of chocolate chips. Why? Because they taste like a campfire would smell if you drowned it at the end of the night with a fountain of dark chocolate. Because our fireplace is now home to the dog’s bed, and somehow, having an edible equivalent to that winter fireplace aroma makes up for it. Because this is Seattle, which means it’s raining outside and my grill is already hibernating. And, well, because time is money.

But last week, innocently enough, I ambled into Hot Cakes to run an errand for Santa (which I can’t mention here, for fear of exposure), and I ordered a smoky hot chocolate. There, underneath the house made marshmallow, hid an accent that surprised me. It tasted a little bit like pine trees. It was like drinking thick sipping chocolate that had taken a spill onto a forest floor covered with a soft, fragrant bed of needles – albeit remarkably clean ones. Autumn told me I was tasting fir essential oil, and that I could get all sorts of similar things at Dandelion Botanical, a shop across the street, so I wandered over. I went home with spruce tree essential oil. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since the year I spent a December testing recipes for a cookbook for Kathy Gunst, about a decade ago, holiday baking has meant one thing most strongly: buttercrunch. In her family, the secret family recipes is . . . well, secret, but I’ve made it enough times that a) I have to make some new version every year and b) I never seem to be able to make enough of it.

As soon as I tasted Autumn’s hot chocolate, I knew I’d be making a version redolent of smoke and that forest floor – spruce trees, it turned out, produced the essential oil I liked best. I folded Hot Cakes’ smoked chocolate chips and a few drops of that oil into my version of Kathy’s buttercrunch recipe, and added a bit of toasted coconut for texture (and okay, yes, I was flirting with the idea of making candy that looked like a campsite).

This ain’t your grandmother’s Christmas candy, people. But if you wanted to distill the smell of camping in a Northwest forest into an afternoon snack, and you want something delicious to crunch on in wintry weather, I got you covered.

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch (PDF)
Crunchy, chocolaty candy with the smoky, pine-filled allure of a campfire? Sign me up. But let’s not kid ourselves: this is not a low-maintenance holiday treat. It requires two ingredients you might have to mail order, but both, in my opinion, are intriguing enough to be worth the time and money. Order smoked chocolate chips from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle (www.getyourhotcakes.com) and spruce extract from Dandelion Botanical, which is actually just across the street (www.dandelionbotanical.com).

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
3 to 6 drops spruce or pine essential oil
7 ounces smoked chocolate chips
2/3 cup toasted sweetened coconut
7 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I prefer 70%), finely chopped
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290°F on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290°F, stir in the essential oil (3 drops for a hint, or up to 6 for a super piney flavor, depending on how strong you want it), then carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture is just a bit bigger in size than a piece of paper. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the smoked chocolate chips: Place them in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread the melted smoked chocolate in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with the coconut. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Repeat the melting process with the bittersweet chocolate, over low heat, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the almonds on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, recipe

Holiday Baking

HolidayCookieCollage_2

These days, life feels like it consists mainly of gathering. I’m gathering things for cookbook signings, gathering holiday gifts, gathering friends for dinners and parties, gathering photos and addresses, gathering tights I’ve ripped putting on with too-dry cuticles. It seemed only fitting to gather up a few of my favorite holiday baking recipes from Hogwash. Enjoy!

Coffee (with Cream and Sugar) Cookies
Salty Marcona Almond Toffee
Cardamom Snowflake Cookies
Ginger Shatters
Curiously Strong Buttermint Crunch
Nut-Smothered Chocolate-Dipped Pretzels
Heirloom Apple-Cranberry Pie

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Filed under Cakes, Cookies, recipe

Is there an allergy test for that?

Millet-Pecan Carnival Cookies 2

Here’s how you make chocolate chip cookies: you beat the butter and sugar into a fluffy little frenzy, possibly forgetting about them both while you answer an email. You crack two eggs in, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each one, then swear at yourself for a) always throwing the vanilla into the baking drawer upside-down, since this time it leaked, and b) spacing out on the computer instead of blending the dry ingredients, because now you need them. You whisk flour—or flours, if you’re me, because I love the chew of chocolate chip cookies made with a mixture of bread and whole wheat pastry flours—with salt and some sort of leavening and perhaps a bit of spice, dump it all into the mixer, and stir. Then there are the add-ins—chocolate (always), oats (more often than not), dried fruit (sour cherries, please, never raisins), and toasted coconut. These are my favorite cookies.

That’s what I used to think. That’s what I thought until I morphed into one of those people who may or may not be allergic to certain things. (The horror.) That’s what I thought until today, in fact, when I decided that rather than substituting various things into my standard chocolate-chunk cookies—ground flax for the eggs, new flours for all-purpose, and the like—I need to research my standard definition of “cookie.”

I didn’t have to go much farther than Super Natural Every Day, Heidi Swanson’s newest cooking bible. I’ve liked Heidi’s recipes in the past because they’re fresh and creative, but in the last six months—yes, it’s been that long since I cut out gluten, eggs, and soy—her books have provided constant inspiration when I’m trying to find a path out of the way I used to cook (or at least from empty kitchen to warm dessert). She cooks things that are instantly familiar, even if you’ve never tasted anything remotely similar. She uses unique ingredients without making them seem like substitutions. And in my experience, every recipe works every time. Case in point: chocolate chip cookies.

Millet-Pecan Carnival Cookies batter

Heidi calls these “Carnival Cookies.” It’s fitting, given the original combination of peanuts, popcorn, and chocolate chips, but for me, the name is more about the fun. Stirring up something called a cookie without going through the normal cookie motions—for one, these don’t require a mixer, or even sugar—was somehow liberating, allergies be damned. Substituting a big handful of millet for some of the oats, and pecans for the peanuts, was easy enough, and made these safe for my father-in-law, who’s allergic to peanuts. They’ll work for my friend’s hypersensitive son. And they’ll work for me, because if I’m allergic to anything in this world, it’s a week without a great cookie.

Millet-Pecan Carnival Cookies 3

Millet-Pecan Carnival Cookies (PDF)
Changed only slightly from Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Carnival Cookies in her latest book, Super Natural Every Day (Ten Speed, 2011), these cookies are a blast. Between crunchy millet, swaths of chocolate, and little popcorn grenades, they’re far more interesting in the mouth than your average chocolate chip cookie—and appropriate for many with dietary restrictions.

Active time: 20 minutes
Makes about 24 cookies

1 1/2 cups well-mashed bananas (about 3 large)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup barely warmed (not solid) extra-virgin coconut oil
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw millet
1/2 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups popped corn

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the bananas, vanilla, and coconut oil. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the oats, millet, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the pecans, then the chocolate chips, and finally the popped corn. (It won’t look like normal cookie dough.) Shape the dough into 1-inch balls with your hands, packing the dough firmly together. Place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets, and press each ball down a bit with the palm of your hand, so each mound of dough is about 1/2-inch tall.

Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, or until the bottoms of the cookies are a deep golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool completely, directly on the baking sheets.

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Filed under Cookies, egg-free, gluten-free

A Good Use for Cheap Butter

mapled choc chip cookies 2

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with an empty refrigerator. Coming home from ten days in New England, I was baffled by how much we didn’t have. There were all of the things that were actually necessary to feed a child—milk, and a few slices of bread, cheese and tortillas, and a few oranges. But after going out to breakfast the first day we were home, it occurred to me that at some point, we’d have to feed ourselves, too.

Over the holidays, I also tested recipes for the Pike Place Market cookbook. Every day, I had specific goals—pulled pork sandwiches with coffee-tinged barbecue sauce one day, smoked salmon rillettes and stout-braised bratwurst the next. (It was a delicious week.) Here, filling a refrigerator with everyday food, with no actual recipe plans, seemed incredibly novel—and somehow daunting. Handicapped by jetlag and a holiday hangover, I couldn’t get it together to plan out food for the week, so I did what anyone with an empty refrigerator might do. I bought butter.

Normally, I buy two butters—Trader Joe’s unsalted store brand, and Golden Glen Creamery’s fancy butter. The former is cheap and works fine for baking; we use the latter (which is not cheap) for toast and in foods where you can really taste it. But on our vacation, I ran into a recipe that specifically called for ShurFine butter—the cheapest stuff you can get in New England.

Snowy chicken coop

We’d planned to spend one night with friends in Norwich, Vermont, in a little modern homestead perched over the White River, between a country road and a pig farm. It was all about as cute as we could handle, with chickens clucking around in the front yard, just past the frozen pond, and a team’s worth of hockey sticks lined up next to the front door. The neighbors’ bushes all had little A-frame houses built over them to protect them from snow. When we drove up, our hostess bounced down the driveway to meet us, the way one almost never does in a city, because the driveways just aren’t long enough. We squealed and hugged and walked inside, where the warm scents of chocolate chip cookies and wood smoke mingled with a pervasive sense of calm.

Our first course of cookies came before we took our coats off. Nicknamed “Wezie Burgers,” for our hostess’ mother, they stray a bit from the traditional back-of-the-bag recipe, with different amounts of sugar and egg and maple syrup in place of the vanilla (and then some), and with ShurFine, and only ShurFine, butter. The first time, they were still warm and chewy, but by the time we’d finished our venison chili—made with a deer shot on the property, naturally—they’d crisped up a bit, so they had the consistency of store-bought cookies, but with way more personality. (Thank you, maple syrup.) The third course came the next morning, when we dipped them in coffee as the tots ran around screaming and the adults tried to estimate just how much snow had collected on the roof of the chicken coop.

mapled choc chip cookies 1

Because there’s nothing quite as welcoming as a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, I returned the favor when we were in Maine, with other friends visiting. Again, the cookies were big, with big cracks in the top emanating from where the oversized chocolate chips I’d used poked through the dough. I, for one, thought they were very similar to the first batch – impressive, I thought, given that the maple syrup measurement was never all that clear. But Wezie uses half whole wheat flour, and I hadn’t, and I didn’t feel like I could call them Wezie Burgers without following her recipe to the T.

mapled choc chip cookies 3

So at home, I whipped up another batch—this time with chunks and shards of chocolate, which I prefer to chips, and Trader Joe’s butter. I was almost satisfied, until my husband asked what it was that made the originals so different—he said they were stiffer, that the dough itself was somehow chunkier, and that the chocolate chunks just weren’t quite right in this cookie. I hate it when he’s right.

For batch three, I bought the cheapest salted butter I could find. I switched to mixing by hand, because it occurred to me that I didn’t see a mixer at my friend’s house, and switched back to whole chips. Perfect. If you can tell me why good butter ruins these cookies, I’m all ears.

I know cookies aren’t exactly what most people need right now. Show me anything with a sprinkle or a twinkle, and might throw it back in your face. But once they’ve cooled, these cookies get a little saggy and deflated, which is exactly how I feel right now—not at all bad in a sick way, just tired.

I’m convinced someone was in charge of structuring the calendar so people would be buoyed by the prospect of new, exciting things immediately after an exhausting vacation, but I clearly haven’t figured out why now is the “right” time to diet.

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Mapled Chocolate Chip Cookies (PDF)

Called “Wezie Burgers” by the family who created the recipe I’ve based mine on, this version of chocolate chip cookies is a Vermont-inspired variation on the back-of-the-bag standard. They’re best mixed a little less than normal, so I add all the dry ingredients—including the chocolate chips—at once.

Day-old cookies can be warmed in the microwave for about 20 seconds for a just-baked effect.

Active Time: 15 minutes
Makes: About 2 dozen

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) cheap salted butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

Whisk the flours and baking soda together in a small bowl, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 1 minute, until well blended. Add the egg and maple syrup, and mix to blend. Add the dry ingredients and the chocolate chips, and stir with on-off pulses just until the mixture comes together.

Arrange 1 1/2” balls of dough at even intervals on the baking sheets (you may need to make more than one batch) and bake for about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are light golden brown. Let cool on sheets for about 15 minutes, then serve warm.

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Bucking up

Sugared Buckwheat Shortbread 2

I just realized, with a little shudder of excitement, that in the next 10 days, I’ll see 40 people I love and don’t get to see often. We’ll traipse from Massachusetts to Vermont to New Hampshire to Maine, stopping and hopping to see family and friends, like we do every year. It’s always fun. It’s always heartwarming. It’s always delicious. And it’s always exhausting.

I probably shouldn’t have counted. I probably should have packed up at the very last minute, without thinking about last year, when I arrived home from the holidays with soaring blood pressure, freakish night sweats, and no appetite – the symptoms of what I thought at the time was a case of too much travel stress, but what I’d later learn was a bit of a kidney crisis.

But I did. I counted. And instead of calming me by organizing the trip in my mind, like I thought it might, the exercise only served to completely separate me from the ability be even remotely productive. Between wrapping and planning and packing and prepping, there has been no room in my frantic little brain for writing. This week, there has not been one ounce of creativity flowing from my fingers. (Speaking of which, what is the correct unit of measurement for creativity?)

Recipes, though – I can always write recipes, and luckily, this time of year, there are always people around to eat sugar in immodest doses. Tomorrow, my suitcase will be packed with these rustic beauties, tender buckwheat shortbreads crusted with turbinado sugar.

Happy holidays, friends. See you in 2011.

Sugared Buckwheat Shortbread cooling

Sugared Buckwheat Shortbread (PDF)
Inspired by the buckwheat pancakes at Seattle’s new Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie, these sweet treats get their rustic look and earthy flavor from buckwheat flour.

Time: 15 minutes active time
Makes: 2 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup turbinado sugar

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand-held electric mixer), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and the salt, and mix again to combine. Add the flours one at a time, mixing on low speed between the two until just combined, and scraping the sides of the mixing bowl when necessary.

When all the flour is incorporated, dump the dough onto a board or a clean countertop. Gently knead the dough until it comes together (it should feel sticky). Shape the dough into a log about 12” long. Sprinkle the log with about half the turbinado sugar, coating it on all sides. Wrap the sugared dough in waxed paper, twist the ends to help push the dough into an even, round shape, and refrigerate until very firm, about 3 hours, or overnight. The dough can also be well wrapped and frozen up to 1 month.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats. Slice the dough logs into 1/4” thick pieces, and place the cookies about 3/4” apart on the baking sheets. Sprinkle with the remaining turbinado sugar, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and end to end halfway through baking, until the cookies are firm.

Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer them carefully to cooling racks to cool completely. Store in airtight containers, up to 1 week.

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A better buttercrunch?

IMG_4308

It used to drive me crazy when my husband stopped to fix something. We’d be in the middle of a conversation, and he’d spot, say, a proud nail in the wood floor, and before I could so much as utter another syllable, he’d be down on his hands and knees with a hammer, pounding away.

It only bothered me until I realized that in my own realm, I do the same thing. If there’s something I don’t like about a recipe, I tinker. I play. I fiddle. I fix. So while it’s not in my nature to hang a photo back up immediately after it falls off the wall, I’ll sauté chard three nights in a row, if it means getting the garlic flavor just right. And admittedly, it’s more or less the same thing.

Sometimes, though, there’s just nothing to fix. If there’s a better buttercrunch recipe than the one I use most frequently, I haven’t found it. I’ve tried. Many are fancier, or more complicated. Some are more unique. But my basic version, a quick toffee slathered with dark chocolate and walnuts, has be come a holiday stand-by. Some years I go a little crazy, sprinkling it with toasted almonds, or even Altoids, but I always come back to basics.

After recommending it as a DIY gift idea to a friend, I got to thinking: I don’t want to change the technique behind it, but could I ramp up the flavor? I turned on the stove.

Instead of the usual sugar, I made the caramel with brown sugar, infused with an entire vanilla bean’s seeds. I smoothed a 60% cacao chocolate over the cooled toffee—I’ve found using too dark a chocolate prevents it from sticking properly as it dries—and sprinkled it with toasted walnuts, instead of untoasted.

It was crunchy and sticky and chocolaty and nutty, as usual. But more delicious? Honestly, I’m not sure. It might be slightly more flavorful, what with all that vanilla, and since I was out of plain sugar, it was certainly more convenient for me to make with brown sugar. I still loved wrapping it up in little jars and giving it away, but for once, the tinkering didn’t really make a difference. I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a thing. In any case, I need another batch, to temper the let-down.

Brown Sugar-Vanilla Buttercrunch (PDF)
This crunchy candy, based on a top-secret family recipe from someone else’s family, is my answer for the cookie-averse recipients on my holiday baking list. For another gift, cut the used vanilla bean in to 3 or 4 pieces and snuggle them into jars of sugar, for vanilla sugar.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Karo syrup
2 tablespoons water
Seeds from 1 soft vanilla bean
1 pound high-quality dark chocolate (I prefer 60%, or dark chips), finely chopped
2 cups toasted walnuts, very finely chopped

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, Karo syrup, water, and vanilla bean seeds in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290 degrees, carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture makes a roughly 12” by 15” rectangle. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the chocolate: Place it in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread half the chocolate mixture in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with half the walnuts. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Rewarm the chocolate over low heat, if necessary, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Hubbub

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars  close

Lunch last Friday was almost perfect. I wandered into Le Pichet a little after noon, and downed a New Yorker article and the better part of a glass of house red before a striking gentleman ambled in and took the barstool next to me. We flirted and talked, carefully eating our own little salads, ignoring the rest of the room. He fed me grilled sardines with onion jam, and I scooped salade verte onto his plate. Then we shared oeufs plats, two eggs snuggled into blankets of ham and gruyere and baked until the whites were just set. We both smiled.

He walked me to my car, where he kissed me goodbye. I drove away toward a doctor’s appointment, feeling light and happy, and so lucky to have married him. Then I looked at the floor in front of the passenger seat, and noticed my laptop, along with its nice case and all my work and recipe notes, was missing. The light feeling vanished.

I always lock my car. Sometimes I lock it twice, or even three times, just to be sure my obsessive-compulsive tendencies are still functioning. I pulled over to scour the seats, but a computer is a very difficult thing to lose in the crack between the seat and the center console. I checked the trunk. I called the restaurant. Nothing. Someone had stolen my computer.

There was an unusually clean spot on the passenger door. It was human-shaped, but other than that, there was no sign of a break in – no scratches around the window frame, no bent metal near the lock. While the lack of evidence was convenient from a financial standpoint – no one wants to replace a computer and fix a car door – it was completely humiliating. I must have left the car unlocked. Someone must have watched me leave the car unlocked.

I spent the remainder of the day alternately panicking and mentally flogging myself for my presumed mistake. Instead of going straight home to change all my passwords, file all the various required reports, and record what I could of the recipe notes I’d lost, I went to my doctor’s appointment, where every person in the office assured me the same thing had once happened to them, and they’d survived. Then our nanny called. Our son was running a fever. I picked him up, took him to his doctor, and waited in line for his medicine.

My husband came home. We fretted over a sick kid and cobbled some sort of dinner together. I wish I could remember what we ate. Later, we huddled around our Time Machine downstairs, trying to determine how much of my data was successfully backed up. So many recipes, I thought. So many emails. Getting a new computer is one thing – a process I loathe, because it requires spending so much money on something I understand so poorly – but recreating a work history is another thing entirely.

But I was fortunate. I’m somehow missing all my photos from the month of April – including all the shots we took of Graham’s first birthday – but as far as I can tell, everything else was backed up.

I breathed.

Then, as is always the case when something goes sort of awry but not really, really wrong, I felt a rush of luck. My car wasn’t stolen. I didn’t lose a person. And after all, I’d had a most incredible lunch date with my husband.

Wait. Lunch. At lunch, we’d shared part of a baguette. At lunch, I’d broken a six-week streak of eating gluten-free, as planned. And I didn’t feel one single bit different.

So . . . what? Do I not have celiac disease? I was simultaneously relieved and just plain angry. I mean, I’ve spent six weeks trying not to get caught gazing longingly at the donuts in the bakery case I work near at my local coffee shop, and I’d certainly like to have another one in this lifetime. On the other hand, I’d been harboring a little fantasy. It went like this: I’d eat gluten again, and fall terribly sick, and my joints would scream and shout more than ever. A small plane would soar across the sky, loop-de-looping a message across the bright blue until, clear as day, there was a puffy white paragraph for the entire city to read: JESS DOES NOT HAVE LUPUS. IT’S JUST CELIAC DISEASE. IF SHE STOPS EATING WHEAT, EVERYTHING WILL GO AWAY.

But no dice.

On the other hand, GLUTEN. On Saturday, I had a bagel for (first) breakfast, then we ate French toast for brunch, with friends. We rode to Roxy’s for afternoon Reubens. Afterward, I decided to bake.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars  2

Friday morning, I’d cleaned out my laptop tote a bit. At the top of a stack of papers headed for the recycling bin was one with “emmer chocolate chunk cookies” scrawled across the top, the ghost of a months-old craving. The only glutinous product left in the house – I’d known keeping any would be too tempting for me – was a little bag of Bluebird Grain Farms’ emmer flour, which I’d been too stubborn (or cheap) to give away. And we’d planned a trip to the mountains the next day. Cookies, indeed.

I fluffed butter and sugars, added eggs and vanilla, and fortified the batter with emmer flour and oats. At the last minute, I wavered. What about emmer bars, I thought? With huge chunks of chocolate? I love the way the cut sides of chocolate chunk bars offer a window into just how much meltiness hides in each bite. But cookies seemed so much easier to eat. I went back and forth: Bars. Cookies. Bars. Cookies.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars, before spreading

In the end, I made both. I scooped about half the batter into a brownie pan, pressed it flat, and made bars. With the rest of the batter, I made cookies. I like the bars better. So does Zac. My husband likes the cookies better, because they’re a little crispy. So does Graham, apparently.

Graham likes the cookies best

I guess there’s no way of knowing, without a biopsy, that I don’t have celiac disease for sure. But for now, it sure doesn’t seem likely. I’ve been eating gluten for almost 72 hours now, to no ill effect.

So that was all a lot of hubbub, now, wasn’t it? It reminds me of a joke my sister-in-law, a stand-up comic down in L.A., tells about going back “into” the closet, after years as a lesbian. (She’ll be performing in Bellevue next week, if you’re around.)

“What can I say, folks? Sorry about all the hubbub,” she says. “But I’ve really appreciated all the rainbow flags. Bandanas. WNBA tickets.” (Here’s the actual clip.)

So, yeah. I guess all I really need now is a little more chocolate.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars 1

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars (and Cookies) (PDF)
Here’s a chocolate-stuffed dessert that’s a two-fer in many ways: Barflies get chewy chocolate chunk bars, while cookie lovers get crisp wafers with a great oatmeal cookie chew. Sweets seekers get their fix, and nutrition nuts can point to whole grain emmer flour and a good dose of oat bran to justify the splurge. And for two treats made at the same time, bake the bars right away and freeze the rest of the dough in balls for cookies when you need them at the last minute. Or you can just make all of one type—whatever suits you.

Order emmer flour online at bluebirdgrainfarms.com.

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: 16 bars, plus 2 dozen 3” cookies

Vegetable oil spray (or butter for greasing the pan)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups emmer flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup thick rolled oats
3/4 pound (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8” square brownie pan with the vegetable oil spray (or butter), and line with a square of waxed or parchment paper. Line two heavy baking sheets with parchment paper, and set those aside, too.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl, and mix briefly.

Whisk the emmer flour, oat bran, baking soda, and salt together in a mixing bowl. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients, about a third at a time, and mix until the flour is incorporated. Add the oats and chocolate and mix until combined.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars in pan

Transfer three packed cups of the dough to the 8” pan, spread flat with a spatula, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bars are lightly browned at the edges and the dough has little cracks in the center. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then use the paper to transfer the bars to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares, and let cool another 10 to 15 minutes (to firm up) before moving.

Use the remaining batter to make another batch of bars, or make cookies: Shape knobs of dough into 1” balls and place 2” apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Bars and cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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A morning ritual

coffee with cream and sugar cookie 1

Here’s my morning ritual: coffee, with cream and sugar. Here’s what you have to add to turn it into a cookie: butter, flour, crunch, and chew.

To look at them, you’d think chocolate – I should know, I’ve been looking at them all day. But the flavor that really screams is pure espresso.

Even before they’re baked, the dough for these little holiday numbers has the gorgeous, rich brown color of an extremely comfortable couch. Or a cup of coffee spiked with the perfect amount (that is to say, not too much, but certainly some) cream and sugar. But on the inside, no chocolate at all – just a half cup of espresso beans, whizzed and shaken in the grinder until the poor thing starts to complain.

A half cup. That’s enough for a full French press, in this house.

rolling coffee with cream and sugar cookie

Actually, to be fair, these cookies taste more like chocolate-covered espresso beans, once they’re doused in a healthy dose of bittersweet. And by “healthy dose,” I mean enough chocolate that the combo should make you feel slightly high, but I like them best completely blanketed, as opposed to just decorated. I’d like to think a certain rotund, pink-cheeked fellow would appreciated the sugar shot halfway though his night.

And milk. Don’t forget to leave out the milk.

Enjoy the holidays. We’re heading back east. See you in 2010!

coffee with cream and sugar cookie drying

Coffee (with Cream and Sugar) Cookies (PDF)

A cross between traditional refrigerator cookies and coffee-flavored shortbread, these cookies are made with a whopping half cup of espresso beans. For chocolate-covered espresso beans in cookie form, decorate them with melted dark chocolate—the more, the better, in my opinion.

TIME: 25 minutes active time, plus rolling and decorating, if desired
MAKES: Three to four dozen cookies, depending on cutters

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup espresso beans, ground very fine
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Melted dark chocolate (for decorating, if desired)

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Whisk the ground espresso, flour, and salt together in a small bowl.

With the machine on low, add half the flour to the mixer, and mix until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the mixer with a plastic spatula when needed. (The dough will be a little crumbly.) Add the cream, mix until combined, then add the remaining flour and mix again until the dough is uniformly blended.

Divide the dough between two big pieces of wax paper. Pat the dough into flat discs, wrap in the paper, and chill for 2 hours (or up to 3 days), until firm.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking sheets, and set aside. Allow the dough to soften at room temperature for about 20 minutes, until pliable. (You can speed up this process by kneading small pieces of the dough in your hands, if you’d like.)

Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4” thick. Cut into shapes, and arrange on baking sheets. (The cookies will not spread.) Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are puffed in the center.

Cool the cookies 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough, then decorate cooled cookies with melted dark chocolate. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Note: If cookie cutting isn’t your thing, you can roll each mound into a log almost a foot long and about 1 1/2” in diameter. Wrap each log in wax paper, twist the ends to seal, and chill. Cut into 1/4” rounds before baking.

(Half) coffee with cream and sugar cookie

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Rah! Rah! Winter!

Chicken Stock

It’s a hard sell, I know, when the sky is falling and you’ve eaten enough kale to turn your fingernails green. But really: some of winter is worth saving.

So you heard me? Talking about freezing stock, soups, cookies, and crisp topping for the perfect summer freezer, on KUOW?

Here are the recipes I discussed with Megan Sukys (all PDFs):
Chicken Stock
Carrot-Lemongrass Soup
Onion Fennel Jam
Cinnamon-Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Ultimate Crisp Topping (Big Batch)
Whole Grain Cranberry-Walnut Biscotti

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Needs

Cinnamon-Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookie 4

The word need has a rather bouncy personality. It skip-hops from require to oblige to desire to demand, and slips toward want, that most evil cousin, and back again.

It’s no accident that need is a four-letter word—it’s a dangerous one to use. If I had my way, we’d have as many words for need as the Eskimos have for snow. Because really, the way we have it set up now, need is sorely overworked. There are simply too many kinds of needs.

There are the real ones, of course, the requirements: Children need love. My plants need water.

There are the complaints, superficial and serious: I need a new haircut. We need a new president.

There are the certainties: Our car needs new struts for the back hatch so it doesn’t fall on my head again.

There are the obligations: I need to go to the store; we’re almost out of milk.

Then, there are the dreams: I need a garden that actually gets some sun.

But it seems like the more serious the subject, the more inadequate the word becomes. Talk about real needs, and it gets a lot more useful to skip the four-letter and go for cynicism: I bet all of Gaza could use a good nights’ sleep. Or, Please send my leftovers to Africa. Someone might be hungry there.

Me? I don’t have needs, on that scale. I’ve never known a single one. I put on nice mittens and go from my heated office to my heated car to my heated gym, where I have to make time for exercise because someone else grows my food, finds my fuel, and pumps my water. Then I come home and complain, because I have so many interesting things to think about that I can’t do them all. My lifestyle—and yours, I daresay, if you’re here reading about food instead of outside looking for it—hardly provides an excuse to use that word at all.

But we do, just the same, because there’s only one need.

So please, friends, don’t think I’m ignoring the world’s privations and emergencies when I say that yesterday, in my infinitely small, overly charmed, sometimes completely shallow world, I needed a cookie.

You understand, don’t you? It happens to everyone. In fact, there should be a word for the very needing of a slightly crunchy, chocolaty treat, just as there should be a different word for needing milk when it’s cookie that has been smashed and smeared into all the little crevices in your mouth, and not, say, brownie. Need just doesn’t have enough letters to do the job.

But need I did. And far be it from me to deny anything to the unborn.

Cookies have needs, too; like people, they’re all different. No one likes a soggy cookie. Not many people like them charred, either. But beyond that, it’s all up to interpretation.

My cookies have a very specific needs list: The chocolate must come in chunks, not chips, all the better for smearing across the bottom lip when still just a bit warm. There must be some whole wheat, to present the allusion of a feigned interest in the overall health of the cookie. (There will be no questions asked when others bake, however.) Unless there’s been a particularly cookie-less stretch, they also require more intrigue than just the chocolate—some orange peel, or a bit of some spice or another, and yes, most definitely—okay, always—something just a little crunchy. I also like them high and almost shortbread-ish, rarely flat and spread out.

And for God’s sake, they don’t need to be baked all at once, when you’re likely to move on to a different project and burn one batch. I always bake one sheet at a time, and freeze the rest, in little balls, so that I can bake just a few for days on end, when I need them most, and eat them right after the chocolate has ceased to pose a burn threat, but before it actually solidifies.

Yesterday’s crisis came on fast, but I should have seen it coming. (There’s another word—crisis. In the news, it’s a euphemism for undeclared war. Is there a word for an urgent-yet-peaceful food crisis? Something more serious than just a plain old craving?)

Anyway. My cousin reported eating too much oatmeal cookie batter, and I listened, and wanted some. I made triple chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies with coconut flakes back east, and their memory followed me home. Then, this week, the New York Times reposted a story called The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating, and in fourth position, they printed cinnamon, and something about controlling blood sugar and cholesterol and sprinkling a bit on your oatmeal.

Here, I should point out that maybe Sarah Palin is right about the state of today’s liberal elite media. There was not one mention—not one—of putting cinnamon into chocolate chunk cookies. If that’s not journalistic bias, I don’t know what is.

Some days, you just have to do everything yourself.

So smack-dab in the middle of moving my files downstairs (beware, the nursery prep has started!), I tilted back the KitchenAid’s head, dropped a couple sticks of butter down the hatch (KitchenAids have cravings, too, right?), and got going.

And oh, yes, they hit the spot. In fact, I think today, I need another.

One more thing. If you live in Seattle, and depend regularly on the farmers’ markets (or if you’ve ever bought a piece of Washington produce), take a second to remember that a lot of your favorite farms are under water right now. A bunch of small donations to the Good Farmer Fund might help someone get through the winter. And really. If that’s not a need, what is?

Cinnamon-Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookie 3

Cinnamon-Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies (PDF)

The truth: What makes these cookies great, besides the big hunks chocolate (of course), is the millet, which creates little bursts of crunchiness in the final product. But no one seems to like the sound of “millet cookies.” So keep it a secret, if you must—but I love it. Look for small, yellow millet grains in the bulk foods aisle of a good natural grocer. (If your partner dares say anything about birdseed, simply accuse him or her of a lack of vision and deny future cookies. Worked for me.)

ACTIVE TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: About 40 2” cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 cups lightly packed sweetened coconut
1/2 cup millet (uncooked)
1/2 pound bittersweet (70%) chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two heavy baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand-held electric mixer), cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time on low speed, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, and mix again.

Meanwhile, whisk both flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, coconut, and millet together in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture about a third at a time, mixing on low speed until just combined between additions, and scraping the bottom of the bowl clean when necessary. Fold in the chocolate chunks.

Drop the dough by heaping spoonfuls (a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop works perfectly) about 2” apart on the baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes for cookies the size of a walnut, 14 to 17 minutes for cookies the size of a golf ball, or until the edges are lightly browned and just beginning to crack. (The cookies will not spread much, so roundish dough portions work better than lumpy ones.) Cool the cookies on sheets for 5 minutes, and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Cinnamon-Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookie 6

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Snow days

Seattle snow

I apologize in advance, Seattle, for what I’m about to say. But someone has to say it. Otherwise, who’s going to teach you what real weather is?

You’re soft, city. Soft, and pathetic, and unprepared. Three inches of snow is no reason to cancel school. You want a snow emergency? Try 46 inches of snow in 48 hours. That’s a reason to change the bus routes. Or snow, followed by ice so thick it suffocates tree branches, weighs them down, and causes them to tumble into the road, snapping power to thousands of people for days on end. That’s a storm. Winter of ’05 on Cape Cod was a reason to cook on the wood stove:

Cape Cod Blizzard '05

But this? Hardly. Buck up, Seattle. Or at least save your skis for a teensy bit more snowfall.

XC skiing on 3 inches

I know, I know. A town with no snow removal infrastructure has no reason to be embarrassed for acting like this. It’s just the way things work here. And even though in my brain, I’m horrified to live in a city where no one knows how to drive on crispy, crunchy roads, my heart feels a little differently.

Funny thing, time. It’s only our third winter here, and somehow a few inches of white is now enough to bring on that snow day exuberance. What before I might have considered nothing more than a day’s forecast is now cause for celebration—baking, and extra cups of tea, and frequent calls to neighbors and friends. Can you believe this?, we ask. As if it’s some sort of record-breaker.

So yes, it’s pathetic. But it’s also kind of nice. The whole world seems to have banded together, as is usually the case with emergencies, only there’s no actual emergency.

A friend’s day care was canceled, and the friend had an appointment she couldn’t miss. I happened to have a recipe assignment for a kids’ magazine, and needed a tester. We decided I’d spend the morning cooking with Abi, who’s two.

We finished my assignment in about 20 minutes. We needed another project. I set out to make the ugly cookies I told you about—you know, the ones that mean well, and could never be confused with Christmas ornaments. Being totally cranky about holiday cookies doesn’t mean that you can’t make cookies at all, does it?

Well, really, I tried to make an ugly version of some very pretty cookies that caught my eye a few days ago, over at 101cookbooks.com. They were sugar cookies, basically, only made with part cream cheese instead of all butter, and spiked with rye flour, for a more Scandinavian flavor. Heidi cut hers into cute little wreaths, but I thought Abi and I could most certainly make something decidedly less adorable.

I changed a few things. I used all whole wheat pastry flour, instead of Heidi’s rye, to erase any real sense of the exotic. I dumped some cardamom in instead of the cinnamon Abi requested. Small things, but enough to make the recipe a bit more kid-friendly, I thought.

I also did as much incorrectly as I possibly could. Have you invited a toddler to hold your rolling pin recently? I hadn’t. They mash. They squish. They beat. But they do not roll.

I don’t often see cookie recipes that start the rolling out instructions with something like this: Place your gently refrigerated cookie dough on a clean counter. Instead of dusting the dough lightly with flour, pat flour in tablespoon-sized mounds into dough, until you’re certain you’ve ruined it and are positive the dough has warmed up enough to glue itself to the counter regardless of how much more flour you might add. Then find a heavy object (anything will do), and beat the dough into a bloody pulp, taking care that no two square inches of the dough have similar thicknesses. It’s best if you can create a sort of wavy, white cap-like texture, with dimples at the edges where you’ve used your fingers as part of the creative process.

Abi with the dough

But that’s just what we did. Then, to my surprise, after a few quick folds and rerolls, the dough sprung back into perfect shape while said toddler wrestled the sugar box open. No problem, I thought. I’ll let her cut the cookies out, and we’ll have delicious cardamom-scented dough scraps. Our cookies would still pass the ugly test.

But no matter how many times I turned my back, she made perfect little snowflakes with my dull cookie cutters. She severed a few in half, but was thrilled to discover that any imperfection could be smashed and rerolled, over and over again. And those cookies, they took a beating and just kept getting more beautiful.

I didn’t let the cookies cool before handing Abi the powdered sugar, either, so the magical dusting that drew me to the recipe in Heidi’s photos looked more like a dumping. (The kid wasn’t exactly light-handed with the sugar.)

Sifting snow

But if you’re selling a toddler a cookie on the basis of the name “snow cookies,” and it’s snowing outside, clumpy is hardly an issue. And truthfully, they still looked great.

So much for the ugly. Will try harder next time.

Cardamom snowflake cookies 2

Cardamom Snowflake Cookies (PDF)

Based on Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Swedish Rye Cookies, published on 101cookbooks.com, these cream cheese-and-butter cookies roll out beautifully, and hold up well to abuse by the most aggressive rolling pin. I used all whole wheat pastry flour, because with all that sugar on top, no one will notice if your cookies are ever so slightly more healthy (plus, the pastry flour makes them nice and delicate).

Of course, you can cut them into any shape you’d like, but on a snow day, ruffled edges and showers of sugar do a great job of mimicking what’s happening outside.

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: 3 dozen 2- to 3-inch cookies

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) regular cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
All-purpose flour, for rolling
Powdered sugar, for snow

Mixing flour for cookies

Whisk the flour, cardamom, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside. In the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and whip another 2 minutes.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture a few scoops at a time, and mix until all the dry stuff at the bottom of the bowl is incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times while mixing, if necessary. Using your hands, press the dough into a ball. Transfer it to a sheet of wax paper, flatten it into a disc, wrap the wax paper around the dough, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats, and set aside.

Lightly dust a clean work surface and a rolling pin with the all-purpose flour. Using only as much additional flour as is required to prevent the dough from sticking, roll the dough out to roughly 1/4” thickness. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters, transfer to the prepared sheets, and bake for about 8 minutes, until just tinged brown at the edges but not actually brown. (I was just able to start smelling the cardamom.) Cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks, and sift powdered sugar “snow” over the tops while cookies are still a bit warm. Allow cookies to cool completely.

Cardamom snowflake cookies 3

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Baking without the baked taste

Bittersweet Walnut Buttercrunch 1

I woke up with my high school’s fight song in my head. Fight for Boise, we are with you, with you all the way… Is that how it went? Or was the other verse first? And what was the other verse? Pondering such important things, I walked into the kitchen and poured the coffee beans directly into the filter without grinding them first. Oh, I see what kind of day it’s going to be.

I’d hoped to wake up and bake cookies. We’re heading to San Francisco for a long weekend, to see my brother, and I wanted to make something without what he’s termed “the baked taste.” I don’t understand it, to be honest. It’s apparently a cross between burnt flour and old cinnamon; it crawls onto the bottoms of unsuspecting muffins and cakes and just loiters there, tasting dusty. The way he tells it, baked taste can kill a person.

But the coffee beans, they were a sign. Cookies were not to be. Besides, I’ve been cranky about cookies for days.

Have you seen the cover of Gourmet’s December cookie issue? They’re all different, so you may not have seen the same cover got, the one with lemon sandwich cookies, dressed up like little pink pompoms.

I love that we all got different covers, for sure. That’s exciting. But the cookies? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but food coloring is so out. There should be a clear dividing line between something one gives to one’s neighbors, to eat, and something one hangs on a Christmas tree. Just my opinion.

But speaking of Christmas trees, did I tell you? Someone stole my neighbor’s California cyprus. Stole it. Just wandered over in the middle of the night, about a week ago, and dug it out of the ground. My neighbor knocked on my door in a tizzy the next day, after tromping all around the perimeter of my house to make sure I hadn’t fallen prey to the digger, too. We were lucky, I guess. But the neighbor was furious. I told him to write a eulogy, and post it on a sign where the tree had been. He did a good job, I think:

A natural beauty stood here
A tenacious tree known for withstanding the wild winds off the Pacific
Regrettably, it could not withstand someone’s stupidity
On the night of Dec. 2nd, someone dug this tree out of the ground, and took it

I nurtured you, shaped you, and watched you grow. You brought me great joy.
I fear you were taken for use as a Christmas tree.
I hope that instead, you may have a successful transplant and live on to show your beauty to others.
I know you will bring joy to those undeserving folks who now possess you.

Seriously.

Anyway. Back to that cover, with the cookies that look like they belong on trees.

Some covers say cook me. Or doesn’t this look interesting. But the one my mailman delivered just says Yes, Christmas cookies are a direct reflection of how perfectly you live your life. And, If your cookies don’t look like this, you’re a failure. And, worse still, If you don’t attempt to make cookies like this, you’re a sucking the life out of people you love. Who wants to make cookies after all that?

Course, all this internal turmoil over a magazine cover must be the result of hormones. I normally love Gourmet. But this month, I hate it. Hate. It morphs cookies from a symbol of holiday cheer into a contest. And instead of making perfectly round samples of the obsessive compulsive behavior I try my very best to avoid this time of year, I decided, after the coffee thing, that I will be boycotting cute cookies this year altogether. In fact, I will make an attempt at the very ugliest, least photogenic cookies bake-able, because darnit, it’s the thought that counts. I just want a lump of a thing, the kind of cookie you’re not afraid to put your whole hand on. Who wants a cookie you can only touch on the sides? Or worse, one you’re afraid to eat?

The lumps, though, they’ll have baked taste, which I happen to love. Which means today, for my brother, I’ll be bringing a classic version of the Altoids buttercrunch I made last year. (Even the ugly pieces.)

Bittersweet Walnut Buttercrunch 3

Bittersweet Walnut Buttercrunch (PDF)

This crunchy candy, based on a top-secret family recipe from someone else’s family, is my answer for the cookie-averse recipients on my holiday baking list.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Karo syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 pound high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I prefer 70%), finely chopped
2 cups toasted walnuts, very finely chopped

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290 degrees, carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture makes a roughly 12” by 15” rectangle. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the chocolate: Place it in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread half the chocolate mixture in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with half the walnuts. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Rewarm the chocolate over low heat, if necessary, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Butter and coconut

cheryl's double-chocolate coconut cookies

When a pound of butter stands up in the fridge and yells – really hollers – about not being used enough around here these days, it’s dangerous not to listen.

That’s what happened yesterday. I got to thinking about macaroons, and my butter’s blocky limbs started waving around every time I went for the juice. My friend Cheryl, who’s my instant go-to when it comes to anything coconut, told me to hold off on the macaroons, if my mouth wasn’t up for the chewing.

“Patience, sister, patience,” she wrote. “The only thing worse than not having macaroons is having to eat them gingerly. Macaroons are meant to be chewed and gnawed over. Wait until you’re good and ready.”

She was right, of course. But the butter.

I turned to one of her recipes, a real homage to coconut with enough chocolate to make my heart start pounding in one quick glance. (It’s funny. I’d made them before, for a personal chef client, but I’d never actually tried them myself, because I didn’t think I’d like the coconut. How times change.)

I made a few minor adjustments, adding whole wheat flour – nothing you’ll really notice – and substituting dark chocolate chips for Cheryl’s milk chocolate chunks. (I also skipped the 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, simply because I didn’t have it, but I’m sure it would be delicious.) The cookies had just the coconut flavor I craved, and a consistency soft enough for my tender palate.

Last night, a friend of ours got a sweet new job offer, so we took the batch to their house, to share, and celebrate. Then today, my friend Sarah and I spent the morning gardening in the rain, and Cheryl’s cookies were really just the thing, when we got tired of pulling weeds.

I’m a little embarrassed to say the cookies gone already. (It’s been 25 hours.)

Thank goodness I have more butter.

Cheryl’s Double-Chocolate Coconut Cookies (PDF)
This recipe, by Cheryl Sternman Rule, has been changed only slightly from its original incarnation, which appeared in Lora Brody’s tasty chronicle of Yankee flavor, The New England Table. Cheryl’s note in the original says the cookies will freeze beautifully, but I doubt you’ll have any left.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: three dozen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup regular cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets (or three, if you have three oven racks) with parchment paper or silicon baking mats, and set aside.

Sift the first five ingredients into a medium bowl, and set aside. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times along the way. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the vanilla, and mix well. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and blend just until incorporated. Fold in the coconut and chocolate chips.

Drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, about 12 cookies per sheet. (Bake in the center of the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, rotating sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through. The cookies are done when the edges are firm and the centers lose their shine. (You will never see them brown, obviously.) Cool cookies on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Cookies for the car

chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies frozen

It’s time.

The car is packed with food for six people for six days. We’ve waxed our skis. We dug out our cow bells, for cheering on the favorites.

We’re heading north to watch the World Cup.

Yes. Vacation.

I made cookie dough last night, and scooped it out into neat little balls to freeze and bring to our condo. But this morning, between last-minute edits, I couldn’t help but pop a few in the oven.

chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies

They’re gorgeous, really a mix between an oatmeal cookie and a 70% chocolate bar. The recipe is nothing special - just the old stand-by from the top of the Quaker Oats box, with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup flaxseed meal subbed in for 1/2 cup of the regular flour. No raisins. And oh, a full 12 ounces of chopped good chocolate.

My intention was to share the eight I’ve baked already with the rest of the caravan. I think I’ll call to apologize in advance.

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A cookie for a caucus

Oatmeal Peach Ginger Cookie bitten

Since Wednesday night, when I realized my hot date with the politically inclined folks in the neighborhood is this Saturday, I’ve been cramming for the caucus. Cramming, because I’m not usually part of that group, and as of this moment, I’m still not sure who I’ll stand up for.

I’ll admit, I’ve never thought this much about an election. Maybe it’s the war. Maybe it’s that my sister will vote in November (or, she’d better), when she’s finally old enough to hit the polls. Or maybe it’s just that I’m no longer (quite as) blissfully ignorant of my political surroundings. In any case, I suddenly seem to have a lot to learn before tomorrow.

My dad always told us that studying requires two things: milk, cookies, and two hours. He usually made his case when there was a math test involved, but I think it applies to any decent decision-making process.

My two hours started last weekend, when my mom called. She’d been selected to escort Obama at a pre-caucus rally in Idaho, where the ol’ “Where’s the Democratic caucus this year?” question no longer ends with some joke about a phone booth. She was crazed, bit hard by the Obama bug. Tonight a friend who works for Hillary is calling, and I’ve got some thinking to do. Probably more than two hours’ worth. (I guess that doesn’t leave much room for you to wonder about my party lines, does it?)

A reader recently wrote:

What does Obama eat? Don’t you ever wonder? He’s so thin, looks so in shape. He can’t be spending much time working out. Maybe he does one of those “get yourself in shape in 15 minutes” programs. But he must eat on the healthy side. Or maybe he just picks when he goes to those $1,000 a plate dinners. Or was it $25,000? Hillary no doubt does more than pick and Bill is, shall we say, in kind of a pickle with his heart condition. McCain is probably on doctors’ orders and do we even care what Romney and Huckabee eat? I wonder how much imported food ol G.W. eats.

Ouch. But maybe it would be easier, voting by meal plan. The New York Times would read Hillary Caught Wolfing Fries at McDonald’s Between Campaign Stops, and my decision would be made.

Or maybe it would just prove how judgmental I am about what people eat. The very people I commend for their appreciation of diversity might lose out on a vote because they don’t eat like I do.

Anyway, it’s time we get down to business, me and this plate of cookies.

They’re thoughtful, these chewy rounds: Each has its own level of gingery bite, its own unique distribution of the whole grain blend of cornmeal, flax, millet, and quinoa I’ve come to rely on when I want my baked goods to pack a bit more nutritional punch. They’re based on Kathy’s recipe for Fig & Ginger Cookies, a perennial favorite in our house.

When I’m standing in line in Seattle on Saturday, and she’s doing the same in Maine, I’ll call her.

“Who are you voting for?” I’ll ask.

“Why are you asking me?” she’ll say. “Have another cookie. Then go inside.”
Oatmeal Peach Ginger Cookies Milk

Whole Grain Oatmeal, Peach, and Ginger Cookies (PDF)

If you start with one of my favorite recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks – a book called Favorites, no less –it’s hard to come up with a cookie that’s anything but a favorite. Based on Kathy Gunst’s recipe for Oatmeal Fig & Ginger cookies, this is a cardamom-kissed cookie with crunch and whole grain chew, just the kind to roll around in your mouth with a glass of milk (over and over again, if you’re doing it right) while your brain is working out something important.

If you prefer to leave the whole grains out, substitute 1/2 cup more oatmeal for the cornmeal, flaxseed meal, millet, and quinoa.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 30 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons each cornmeal, flaxseed meal, millet, and quinoa
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups old-fashioned oats
10 dried peach or nectarine halves, chopped into small chunks (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger, tossed with 1 tablespoon flour to prevent sticking

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set side.

Whisk the dry ingredients (through quinoa) to blend in a mixing bowl, and set aside. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with both sugars until light, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions, then stir in the vanilla. Add the oats, fruit, and ginger, and mix on low to blend.

Scoop dough into 1 1/2” balls and place 2” apart on baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are golden at the edges. Let cool five minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

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Back on that horse

What I love about skiing near Seattle – more than hurtling myself downhill, or eating Cup Noodles at lunch, or the piny scent wafting through the air (and certainly more than Popsicle toes) – is how far being on a mountain seems from everyday life. Spending a day inside a snow globe two hours from home may seem normal in mid-February, but driving up from the Emerald City on the first day of the season, where my lawn is still green, it feels like entering a new dimension.

It’s a good thing. Other things fall away: My house is not dirty. I have no Christmas shopping to do. Deadlines do not exist.

Coming from Seattle, where snow rarely falls, the adjustment to a ski area’s wintry wonderland can also be a bit of a shock. Last year, I balked at having to go through all the season’s rediscoveries at once, instead of adjusting to the idea of winter slowly, all through November and December, like I could in Boise or Vail or New England.

Today we went to Stevens Pass, and it pounced on me again, that surprise fourth season. My mind reeled. Wait, we’re going to stay outside all day in a 24-degree snowstorm? We might die.

We didn’t, of course. When the lifts opened, we optimistically qualified the snowpack as “corduroy,” and screamed down before the crowds arrived, thrilled at being alive. But by 2 p.m, we were skiing through someone’s five o’clock shadow, feeling renegade rocks claw at the bases of our skis, and the 400 mg of vitamin I I’d ingested with my coffee had left my system.

I collapsed into the car, tossing a sprig of rosemary someone handed me through the window a few days ago absentmindedly up onto the dashboard. I folded into the warm seat like a bar of bad chocolate, melting before my time. As my husband guided us home, the defroster jetted heat onto the windshield, right through the rosemary. The whole car filled with its calming scent, pure edible Christmas, and I slept hard.

I woke up in Monroe, and by the time we pulled into the driveway, I was ready to face chopping rosemary again. (These biscotti are the gift I started to make yesterday.)

By the way, the finger is looking better. It’s always a bit of a let down when what seems like a life-altering gushing wound turns out to be only really half your fingernail sliced away. I mean, I’m glad I still have my finger, don’t get me wrong. I was just feeling the dramatic vibe yesterday, wondering in vain how I’d ever be able to seriously shake the pointer at a bad child if said digit healed up without a nail. But I’ve downsized my E.T. finger bandage from about a yard of fabric to just a little square of gauze and a couple Band-Aids, so the drama’s gone. It will heal, and I’m pretty sure the nail will grow back eventually.

Pinenut-Rosemary Biscotti 2

Pine Nut-Rosemary Biscotti (PDF)
Recipe 343 of 365

Made with a combination of regular flour and chestnut flour, these biscotti have an earthy, nutty flavor, perfect for dipping into a peppery black Chai tea. If you can’t find chestnut flour, substitute a cup of all-purpose flour.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 30 biscotti

1 cup pine nuts
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for forming biscotti
1 cup chestnut flour
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or silicon baking mat), add the pine nuts in a single layer, and toast on the middle rack for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board to cool, and set aside. Return parchment paper or silicon mat to baking sheet and set aside.

Meanwhile, place both flours, rosemary, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl, and whisk to blend. If needed, use your hands to break up any clumps in the chestnut flour.

In another bowl, whisk the oil, eggs, and milk together until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mix until well combined, and stir in the pine nuts.

Flour a large work area, dump the dough onto the flour, and dust the top with a bit more flour. Using floured hands, divide the dough into two pieces. Working with one piece at a time, form into two flat logs about 2 inches wide and 12 inches long, adding flour as needed to prevent your hands from sticking to the dough and the dough from sticking to the counter. Transfer both logs carefully to the parchment-covered baking sheet, about 3 inches apart, and bake for 30 minutes, or until firm to the touch and just beginning to brown.

Remove the biscotti from the oven and decrease the oven temperature to 300 degrees. When the biscotti are cool enough to handle, carefully and gently transfer them to a cutting board and use a serrated bread knife to cut them into 3/4″ wide slices on a diagonal.

Transfer the biscotti back to the baking sheet, cut side up, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, turning the biscotti over halfway through baking, or until browned on both sides and quite firm. Cool completely on wire racks. Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

Pinenut-Rosemary Biscotti

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339: Curiously Strong Buttermint Crunch

ME: (Squealing.) Oooohh! ALTOIDS! I could make mint buttercrunch!

CASHIER AT T.J.’s: We have chocolate-covered mints, you know.

ME: Yeah, I just love the idea of using Altoids.

CASHIER: Well, we sell chocolate-covered Altoids, too. Are you sure you want these? (Points to traditional Altoids tin in my hand. Looks at me like I’m crazy.)

ME: Yes.

Curiously Strong Buttermint Crunch

Curiously Strong Buttermint Crunch (PDF)
Recipe 339 of 365

I love the cool, refreshing flavor of mint, but when candy cane season hits, I run the other direction. Eeek! Red dye number 4! Here’s a festive, snowy-looking holiday gift that gets its serious minty punch from Altoids instead. I used the peppermint flavor, but I’m sure spearmint would also be delicious.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Karo syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 pound high-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 (1.76 ounce) tin peppermint Altoids

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290 degrees, carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture makes a roughly 12” by 15” rectangle. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the chocolate: Place it in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Pulverize the Altoids in a food processor until very fine, like powdered sugar. (This will send up some Altoid dust; try covering your machine with a tea towel.)

Spread half the chocolate mixture in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with half the Altoids. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Rewarm the chocolate over low heat, if necessary, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the remaining Altoids on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

Curiously Strong Buttermint Crunch 2

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A touch of Grace

Driving back from razor clamming, my friend and I were discussing Christmas cookies, and we hit an impasse. He said Sugar cookies! and I said Sugar cookies? Ick.

See, I’m not from a sugar cookie family. I’m not even from a cookie family. The thought spending a day baking for the holidays with my mother makes me laugh out loud. When the weather outside got frightful, we skied.

But somewhere up the line, there must have been a cookie gene, because I love baking them. Just not. . .them.

We bantered a bit, driving home in the dark. My friend extolled the attributes of his family’s recipe, and I narrowed my eyebrows in disagreement, a bit thankful he couldn’t see me. I know I won’t fool anyone with any claims to cooking with virtuous ingredients all the time, but really, really, I don’t see the point of a plain white cookie with sugar-based icing on top. It just tastes like sugar.

Yes, I hear you. They’re called sugar cookies. But still. Boring. Who wants to bite into an anemic-looking thing, no matter its shape, with one flavor and the same too-yeilding texture the whole way through, when you could sink your teeth into something with a surprise in the middle, or a whole bouquet of flavors, or chocolate, for goodness’ sake? Plus, all the sugar cookies I’ve met stay fresh forever, and that freaks me out.

I argued briefly for cardamom snaps, and little sandwichy bites with ganache smooshed in between, and waved sugar cookies out of my brain entirely when I dropped him off.

But then I got home, and opened up Food & Wine’s December issue, where Grace Parisi – she always has the best recipes - gives a sugar cookie recipe jazzed up with ginger.

I wanted to turn the page, but she had me at “cookies that are especially crispy.” She used baking soda instead of baking powder, and only the yolk of an egg, which means the cookies actually rise less, and stay more snappy after they’re baked. Plus, her riffs on the same recipe got my wheels turning. The smell of my perfect cardamom snap floated out of the page.

But did I really want cardamom? I paused. As a spice, it’s delicious, but totally oversubscribed these days, if you ask me. Abused, even. I think it’s best used subtly, fresh from the pod, for aroma and background flavor, not as a main ingredient. But dammit, there was the convenient ground stuff, at arm’s reach. I couldn’t say no.

I hit the kitchen. First change: whole wheat flour. I figured I didn’t want something really soft, so I brazenly subbed all white whole wheat flour for her all-purpose flour, then changed the ginger flavors to cardamom and stirred in the zest of a couple of Satsuma tangerines.

The moment I took the dough out of the fridge, I knew it wasn’t right. It was cracking in the same sad, parched way a pie dough with not enough liquid does, and I knew it would never roll to the soft, thin, silky sheet I’d need for good-looking, smooth-topped snaps.

I tried anyway, and got the first half of the dough to about 1/3″ thick before it started falling apart. I cut out cute little flower shapes, and baked them off, changing my mind: I’d make thumbprint cookies, with apricot jam. Yes.

Only, we were out of apricot jam. So I tried a little of everything: I let some flowers bake alone, but the tops came out cracked and ugly. I pressed whole apricots into the center of a few, but those, too, were unimpressive, and the apricots would have needed a quick poaching first, perhaps. I filled some flowers with orange marmalade, and the flavor was great, but I hadn’t made my impressions in the cookies deep enough to hold the marmalade, so it oozed out over the cookie in a sickly pool of orange. I tried smashing little pieces of dough into rough-edged snaps, but no go there, either, they just came out looking like squished dough. And cardamom squishes doesn’t really have that nice ring.

By this time I was frustrated and tired, flinging measuring cups into the sink from across the kitchen. I debated throwing the second half of the dough into the trash. My brain swirled with hateful thoughts toward all sugar cookies. I’d thought it would be a quick experiment – I had other, more pressing things to do – and by the time the squishes came out, I was swearing I’d never bake again, or cook, for that matter.

The phone rang. It was Adriana, with a quick question. I did my best to sound normal, determined not to give away my frenzied mental state, and when we hung up, I tried to reevaluate my mess. Let’s not be brash, I thought to myself. I am a big girl. I can handle a cookie disaster gracefully.

I touched the rest of the dough: I’d spent so long messing with the first batch that the second would surely be too warm to work with. But when I picked it up to toss it in the trash, I noticed that the dough was holding together much better than it had right when I’d taken it out of the fridge. Well, I’ll be darned.

So I rolled, and thumbprinted, and filled the cookies with the thick, spicy ginger spread I’d found at Trader Joe’s. And while I puttered around the kitchen, wishing the days were longer and my cookie temper slower, the cookies did their part. They puffed and cracked, and held the jam in just fine. And now, by golly, they’re pretty good cookies. They don’t flop and disintegrate between the teeth, like some cookies we know. They’re upstanding cookie citizens, these little thumbprint gems, fortified with the flavor of whole wheat and what certain picky jam eaters of this household might call jam for real men.

Just don’t call them sugar cookies.

WW Cardamom-Ginger Thumbprint Cookies

Whole Wheat Cardamom-Ginger Thumbprint Cookies (PDF)
Recipe 332 of 365

Based on Grace Parisi’s recipes for Double-Ginger Sugar Cookies and Coconut-Raspberry Thumbprints from the December 2007 issue of Food & Wine magazine, these are sugar cookies with a little more attitude than what usually comes around on the Christmas plate. Plus, you can tell anyone that cares that they’re made with whole wheat flour, and those that don’t won’t know the difference.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 4 dozen cookies

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Satsuma tangerine (or orange) zest
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Thick ginger jam, for the centers (apricot or peach jam would also be delicious)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the next five ingredients together in a mixing bowl, and set aside. Add the yolk and vanilla to the butter mixture, and mix on low to blend, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. With the machine on low, slowly add the flour mixture, and mix just until all the flour is incorporated.

Roll the dough into 1” balls and arrange about 1” apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. Using your thumb or the back of a round 1/2 teaspoon measure, make an indentation in the top of each cookie, and fill each with a scant 1/2 teaspoon of the jam. Return cookies to the oven, switching the positions of the sheets, and bake another 10 minutes.

Cool cookies 10 minutes on pan, then cool completely on racks. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

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