BBQ U, day 3 – hello Texas, and graduation

After Tuesday’s successful rib extravaganza, I was feeling a lot more confident about grilling, and J and I decided that we should divide & conquer with recipe preparation, if we were chosen to do any cooking.  Day 3’s theme?  Secrets of tailgating.

Day 3 menu:

  • Shrimp grilled on sugarcane with dark rum glaze
  • Fire-eater chicken wings
  • Scotch whisky-smoked salmon on a cedar plank with grilled mini-bagels
  • Burger bar:
  1.           Wagyu cheeseburger sliders
  2.           Lamb burgers with goat cheese
  3.           Barbecued pork burgers
  • Hill Country brisket with cola barbecue sauce
  • Wood oven mac and cheese
  • Smoked coleslaw
  • Smoked cherry crisp

J was pretty interested in the pork burgers with smoky slaw, mostly for the coleslaw recipe – he’s got more than a passing interest in coleslaw and has done some experimenting with recipes over the last few years.  (This year, we’re even growing cabbage to make that experimentation easier.) I was sort of tired, so I flirted with idea of not getting involved in one of the dish preparations and just watching everyone’s efforts instead.

J went off to start the pork burgers and slaw, teamed with a father & teenage son team from Colorado, while I stayed in my seat, listening to Steve.  Because it was day 3, Steve was throwing out all sorts of “extra” cooking projects for anyone who was interested, and brought out a special grilling rack for jalapeno poppers.  Suddenly I was much less tired.  One, because I love jalapenos.  Two, because we have quite a few of the plants growing in our garden and they produce a lot of peppers, and there is only so much salsa I am interested in making in a season.  Making a jalapeno popper appetizer would wipe out a large quantity of them without me mincing them to death.  My hand shot up.

I was joined by Larry from outside Fort Worth, TX, who was also part of a father-son team (although Larry’s son Bill was about my age) and as coincidence would have it, an avid jalapeno popper lover himself, with the grilling experience on this dish to boot.  My graduation from BBQ U was assured.

Because this was an “extra” recipe, there was nothing in our recipe binders about how to prepare them, but we were still given a tray of prepared possible ingredients including cheese, bacon and cilantro and a pile of whole jalapenos.  Larry & I quickly decided to use the corer that came with the grilling rack to hollow out the peppers, stuff them with cheese, cooked bacon & cilantro, and then grill them.  Bill lent a hand by heading outside to cook the bacon, while I chopped cheese & cilantro.  While we worked, we chatted about what we’d prepared so far – Larry & Bill had been on the team that did the clams the day before, which they chose because they had absolutely no experience with grilling seafood.  Other people had the same idea we did – try something new while the possibility of professional help was just a few feet away.

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The corer that came with the grilling rack had the unfortunate tendency to rip the jalapenos apart, so we decided because there were more peppers than space in the rack that we would split the torn peppers down the middle to create boats, filling those with cheese & cilantro and wrapping the bacon around them.  The only flaw in this plan is that there were no toothpicks available.  (Really.)  Larry’s solution was to put the ends of the bacon up near the tops of the pepper boats so that as the cheese melted the bacon would stick. We decided that any of them that didn’t look good would be eaten immediately, to cover out tracks.

We weren’t assigned a grill, so we took one of the gas grills that was unused and started cooking.

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The poppers cooked really fast, so we ended up lowering the heat and moving them around before Steve even got over to check on how we were doing.  As the cheese melted down into the vertical peppers, I stuffed more into the top.  The temperature on the patio was about 95 degrees and it was hazy because of the Colorado Springs wildfire, so that plus the heat from the grill meant that those peppers were not the only thing roasting.  And we struggled with the pepper rack, because the peppers kept tipping over, falling onto the grill & spilling ingredients because most of them did not sit low enough in the rack.  Still, Larry & I persevered:

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The experience did teach us that Larry’s method – creating boats wrapped with bacon, and secured with a toothpick (when available) was probably a better solution and also didn’t require another specialty grilling tool.  Not that having a lot of tools is ever a problem, in my opinion, except if you have issues with enough storage space.

We plated our finished product (after sampling several, “just to be sure” while we were out cooking, and also to make sure we got some, since we were attracting a lot of attention with this project) and put it out on the newly-expanded presentation table.

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Meanwhile, J had prepared the smoky cole slaw:

Smoky slaw on the smoker - photo courtesy of Rob Bass, Countryside Food Rides

Smoky slaw on the smoker – photo courtesy of Rob Bass, Countryside Food Rides

J, who can be critical of his own cooking, thought he might have used too much salt in the slaw.  If he did, I didn’t notice – it was really good.  At the time the dishes were presented, however, the pork burgers weren’t done.  The teenaged half of the father-son team J was working with could get grill marks on his food that were a work of art, (see the photos of the angel food cake from the day 2 post – that was all him) but they took a little bit longer to do.  No matter – it just meant that the burgers would still be warm when we were all picking from the display table.

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Hill Country brisket, smoked cherry cobbler

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Shrimp on sugarcane, fire-eater wings

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The Professor approves

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Salmon – about six different ways; these folks got really creative

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Shrimp close up

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Hill Country brisket that was every bit as tasty as it looks.

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Beer can chicken – another “extra” project

But before that could happen, we had to take our final exam, which consisted of Steve asking us one question before handing over our certificates. The beauty of this final exam was that if you didn’t know the answer, he gave you a hint or let one of your fellow classmates help you with the answer.  Do you know how much easier my high school science classes would have been if that had been allowed?

Our overall experience with BBQ U was fantastic – we met some really nice people and made some new friends, we learned some new information and tried cooking new things, and best of all, I was not the first person to flunk out of BBQ U.  We had a lot of fun and now understand how it is that people come back again and again to attend BBQ University – the resort is beautiful, the people who take class are interesting, and Steve changes it up every time so that you can always learn something new.

Of course, there is a dark side to attending a cooking class where so many grills and smokers are available to try, and you’re surrounded by people who are avid barbecue enthusiasts and want to debate the merits of a given grill with you.  Sometimes you come home from work a few days after the trip to find this on your sun porch:

Weber performer

Weber performer

Which then makes your deck look like this:

Grills on deckThanks to Stella Carolyn for allowing me to blog about my experiences.  If you have an overwhelming fascination with vegetables, you can find me over at Cocktail Farmers where I detail our aggressive suburban vegetable garden efforts and my struggle to unload our excess produce.  Or you can just keep reading here, because Stella Carolyn usually gets a fair amount of it and turns it into something amazing.

A Lot Like Love

Cooking, for me, is a lot like dating.  You don’t always know what you’re doing when you start but by the end, if you’re lucky, you’ve fallen in love and you’re left with something comforting and warm.  Take my friends, C. and C., for example.  They started dating and they knew they liked each other. That like quickly turned to love and soon they were living together.  Yesterday they took the next step and became engaged.  It’s a sweet love story and one about which I am super thrilled.  They’re my age and it’s a second marriage for one of them which, for me, makes it so much sweeter and more genuine.  Something about knowing what you want and getting it, makes me so happy.

Anyway, I was cooking tonight and thinking about them and realized that the food I was making was something like their story (hey, it’s a cooking blog, stick with me through the strange parallels!).  I had an idea in my head of what I was making but then I sort of went with the inspiration and ended up with such a delicious dish that I wish I had measured and photographed all the way through so that I could share it with you in more detail.  A lot like falling in love:  by the time you remember to take photos, your partner is there, on one knee proposing.  Or something like that.

Balsamic Honey Chicken

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts

olive oil – just enough to coat the pan lightly

butter,  just a pat or two

balsamic vinager- maybe a 1/4 cup?

honey- about 1/8 of a cup- maybe more

chicken broth- maybe 1/2 cup

Directions

Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil and butter on medium high heat in a saute pan.  Place the breasts in and brown on each side.  Turn heat down to medium, add the chicken broth and cook until just cooked through.  If you have thicker cut chicken breasts, they will take longer.  Take out the chicken breasts and put them on a plate to rest.  Turn the heat back to medium high and add the balsamic and honey.  Whisk together and let it reduce until syrupy.  To be really decadent, add one small pat of butter as well.

photo 1Even more perfect for me is that I had this glorious jar of honey, just begging to be used.  It’s from Georgia and my friend C. of the aforementioned newly betrothed bought it for me when she was there.  Could it be more pretty?

photo 2Slice your chicken breasts.  Maybe more neatly and more uniformly than I did.

photo 3Return them to the pan and coat them in this amazing sauce.  Let them heat back up over low heat.

photo 4I served mine with a side of steamed broccoli and some leftover pea risotto.  It was unexpectedly delicious, warm and comforting.  Much like love.

photo 5

Chag Semach!

Chag Semach!  It’s Purim or what I think of as the Jewish Halloween.  When my husband asked me what the story was, I will confess that I had to go look it up.  I could only remember a few key words… Queen Esther, Hayman, gallows, the annihilation of the Jews (again) and a three pointed hat.  Click here   for a better explanation.

The upshot of it is that we spent Saturday making Hamantaschen, the traditional Purim cookie.  I used the recipe posted on one of my favorite Jewish websites, Kveller.com.  No photos as I made it but I did get one of the finished product.  We made strawberry, apricot and (untraditional) chocolate.  I wanted to make the poppy (mohn) filling but it was too complicated.  Maybe next year.

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Week One Down

Whew.  This was my first week back at work with kids and all.  I had forgotten just how hard it is to get everyone out of the house on time!  It meant that I was throwing things together for dinner- I did my planning and all but, somehow, I was just more exhausted at the end of the day.  I’ll put it this way, if I were single and without children, it would have been a cold cereal and toast for dinner kind of week.

But, tonight.  Well, it’s Friday which is Shabbat and after my years of eating at my grandmother’s table on Friday nights as well as my time in Israel, it’s kind of ingrained in me that you eat a real meal on Friday night.  So I gathered my strength and cooked.

I had recently (Ok, a few weeks ago) tried a maple-soy glazed chicken recipe from Cooking Light.  It was really good.  I had some chicken thighs to use up as well as a bunch of vegetable odds and ends.  Rooting around in the pantry, I found some udon noodles.  Ah, a dish was born.

Maple-Soy Chicken and Vegetable Noodles

(Adapted- ever so slightly- from Cooking Light)

Ingredients

3/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 scant cup lemon juice

2-3 Tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon peeled, grated (fresh) ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

8 Boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts if you prefer, though you’d probably only need 2-3 of them)

Whatever vegetables you can find.  I used broccoli, onion, carrot, green beans and mushrooms.  Garlic would be nice, as would celery, bok choy, peppers, etc.

1 package udon noodles

Directions

In a bowl, mix together the syrup, soy, lemon juice, ginger, and sesame oil.  Add the chicken, turning it a few times to ensure that it gets coated and is mostly submerged in the marinade.  You could also use a zip-lock bag.  Cooking Light says to let it marinate an hour but I did it for less.

Raw chicken really isn’t that pretty, huh?

Set a big pot of water on to boil.  Salt it liberally.  Once it’s boiling, add your udon noodles (or spaghetti or whatever you want) and cook for 8-10 minutes or until tender but not mushy.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, chop your veggies.  I threw the broccoli, green beans and carrots into a steamer basket so that I could partially cook them before I put them in with the rest.  I steamed them in a pot of boiling water for about 2-3 minutes or until they were tender but still crisp, not mushy.

The onions and mushrooms I did not steam.   Instead I left them by themselves to cook in the wok.

*Once I was done with all the vegetable prep,  I cut up my chicken into somewhat more bite-sized pieces.  I tossed the pieces quickly in cornstarch which is a totally optional and somewhat unnecessary step.   Don’t dump the marinade!  Put it in a saucepan and let it boil for several minutes, so as to kill off any yucky leftover from the raw chicken.

I cooked the chicken in the wok, then took it out.  I added the onions and mushrooms to the wok and once they had softened, I added the crisp-tender veggies.  I threw the chicken back in, along with the boiled marinade and the udon noodles.  I tossed it all together and let it heat up.

It was quite delicious, if I do say so myself.  Both my mom and my husband agreed.  The toddler was reserving judgement but did enjoy the plain udon noodles.  Go figure.

* The lack of photos from this point on is due to a cranky toddler, screaming from hunger baby and underfoot dog and cat.  Sometimes that’s my life.

Bits and Pieces

So, what to do when food is the enemy, your time is limited and your father is in town visiting for a week?

Actually, food is no longer the enemy for me, I seem to have figured out what/how much/when to eat so that my blood sugar is under control and the nausea seems to have subsided for now.  I can’t do much about the heartburn, thank you third trimester.  My time also isn’t as limited as it could be- I am finally, somewhat caught up at work so that I don’t have a mountain of testing reports to write.  Instead, I have a number of kids to test and an equal number of reports to write.  But my father is here visiting for the week and so the free time I have, I want to spend with him.

Playing with her Choo-Choos and Grandpa.

So, I did meal plan for the week and will give you the run down.  I also did a bunch of prep for the week.  And I’m thinking about holiday baking already.  It’s a big day.

Tonight we’re having Asian Chicken Soup.  I’ve baked off the chicken for it, using some salt and some Chinese Five Spice Powder.

Monday we’re havingFalafel and salad.  Tuesday we’ll be eating fish and veggies (or chicken and veggies if you’re my dad).  Wednesday is squash mac and cheese, for which I roasted the squash today.

Thursday is quiche and Friday is african chicken soup.  What can I say?  I’m on a soup kick.

I also made cookie dough today which I will roll into logs and freeze so that a few days before December vacation I can slice them, bake them off and come into school a hero.  I made chocolate peanut butter chip* and an experiment of chocolate peppermint.  Same chocolate dough, but with peppermint extract and crushed peppermint candies.

So there you have it, my week in food.  I promise more exciting posts to come but for now, this will have to do.  I have toddlers with whom I need to play and fathers with whom I need to visit.

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*As I went looking for the link to the recipe, I realized I’ve never posted it, which is shocking!  I’ll post it here but 1) I have no photos and 2) credit goes to the back of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Chip bag.  Every time I make it, I think, “That’s a lot of sugar, I should cut back, I bet it doesn’t need that much.” and every time I make it, I never do.  So, you decide how you want to roll.

Chocolate Cookie

Ingredients

2 cups white flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups butter (about 2 1/2 sticks), soft but not melted

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or peppermint if you’re doing what I did)

1 bag peanut butter chips  (or about 1 bag crushed peppermint candies)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment or silpat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat the sugar and butter until combined and fluffy.  Add eggs and the extract you’re using and mix again.  Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture- it will be messy.  Reese’s bag says to do it in several parts, I always dump it in, as my approach to baking really is pretty loose.  Stir in the chips or peppermints.

Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake 8-9 minutes.  Leave some space between them as the will spread and puff up while baking. They will then also fall a bit when you take them out, which is ok.

 

5772

L’Shana Tovah!  Happy new year! No, it’s not suddenly January; it’s the Jewish New Year- year 5772- Rosh Hashanah.  One of the best things about it is that I get to talk with my cousin K. in Israel (of cake fame) each year.  We talk more than once a year, of course, but we always talk on Rosh Hashanah and Passover.  We compare the dinners we made and how many people we had.  It’s a nice way of staying connected.

We had our big dinner last night and so many good friends and family were in attendance.  I cooked for three days leading up to it and managed to get everything on the tables at the right time.  With the exception of the apple crisp for dessert.  I put it in the oven to heat up, put the other desserts on the table and promptly forgot about it.  As a result, we now have a large pan of apple crisp that is, while not burned, deeply browned.  It’s actually delicious but I’m sorry that I didn’t get to share it.

Unlike years past, my house was not clean.  This year, due to the full-time job and toddler, we had to choose between yummy food and a clean house.  The food won, of course.  Also unlike years (and meals) past, I was unable to photograph as I went- something about juggling the food and a toddler did not lend itself to photography.  I’ll give you a run down of the menu, though, and a recipe I tried for last night (I know the adage, don’t make anything for the first time when company is coming- more on that later).

We started with Squash Soup (which I make every year).  This year I roasted the squash in the oven before I added it to the soup- if you’re reading the recipe, put the butter and onions in the pan and when the onions have softened, add the roasted squash and continue as directed.

For the main meal we had steamed green beans, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, rice and an autumn vegetable curry.

Find potato guidelines here.  Someday I’ll post the roast chicken recipe with photos.  I’m surprised I haven’t already.  I use a modified version of Ina Garten’s recipe, found here.

The autumn vegetable curry is a recipe by Ellie Kriegar.  It came in the mail with my annual happy new year letter from Jewish Woman International.  I’m on their list because every mother’s day, I purchase bouquets through them in honor of my mother and mother-in-law.  My mother and MIL don’t actually get the flowers, instead they get a card telling them that flowers were given in their honor to mothers living in domestic violence shelters.  It’s a great program.  Check it out here.

Anyway, I made this curry recipe and have to say it was great.  I had doubts as I was making it because I made it over two days and when I tasted it at the end of day 1, it was bitter and awful.  All I could think was, “This is why you don’t try something new when company is coming!” I consulted with cooking friends to see how to even it out and we decided that the acid from the lime would help.  And I threw in a little sweet as well.   By day two, when it made it to the table, the flavors had mellowed  and it was smooth and comforting.  Pretty healthy as well.  I have the feeling this might make it into our winter dinner rotation. It takes a lot of initial prep- lots of vegetable chopping- but then it pretty much makes itself.  From what I can tell, it also gets better over a day or two so it does seem like the perfect fall/winter weeknight meal.

Ellie Krieger’s Autumn Vegetable Curry

Ingredients

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 1/2 length fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks

1 1/2 tablespoons yellow curry powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups vegetable broth (I used chicken)

1 cup light coconut milk (I used regular as it was what I had)

1 cinnamon stick

3/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or more to taste)

1/2 head of cauliflower, broken into 1 1/2 inch florets (about 3 cups)

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch rounds

2 tomatoes, cored and chopped

Grated zest of 1 lime

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 15 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

5 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (5 oz)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (I did not use this.  Why would you ever use cilantro?  Blech.)

Directions:

Put your onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder and cayenne into the food processor and process until it’s all smooth.  Add the oil and process again until you end up with a sort of smooth, paste-like consistency.  Put this into a large pot on medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture darkens.  Add the broth, coconut milk, cinnamon stick, salt and pepper and let it boil.  Then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the cauliflower, sweet potatoes, carrots and tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and let it come back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium low and let it all simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.  Remove the cinnamon stick.

*this is the point where I stopped and put it in the fridge overnight.  I also added a little bit of honey (maybe 1/8-1/4 of a cup) and a few teaspoons of sugar (maybe 3?) in a desperate attempt to do something about the bitter.  I’m not sure if that really made a difference.  I kept it overnight because I wasn’t serving until the next day.  If you’re making to eat on the same day, just keep going.

Stir in the lime zest and juice, the chickpeas and the spinach and cook until the spinach has wilted, about five minutes.  Check for seasoning again and you’re done.  It’s good over rice.  If you must use the cilantro leaves, sprinkle them as a garnish before serving.  But don’t expect me to eat it.

“You should bake something”

For me, summer always means baking.  Which is counterintuitive since it’s hot in the summer and who wants to turn on the oven?  But as I’ve talked about here many times, summers for us meant being at Camp Grandma with a big kitchen and lots of time.  We Cousins Three found countless ways to entertain ourselves- swimming, stand-up comedy, starting a detective agency, creating and performing shows for our family complete with programs (god bless them, they sat through every. single.one.) and opening a restaurant.  Out of Grandma’s kitchen.  Boy, did we learn about timing with that one!

The best entertainment, however, outside of swimming and giggling, was always baking.  We ended up with tasty results and as long as we cleaned up well and didn’t burn ourselves, Grandma was happy to lend us her kitchen (and, I suspect, get us out of her hair for a few hours).  We tended to bake- sweets were what we wanted.  We made cookies, cakes, and all sorts of stuff.  We used Grandma’s cookbooks, some of which I still have:

After a while, we’d get creative and ice our cakes with special designs- I still remember a ying/yang cake.  Once again, god bless our family members who ate what we made, even when it wasn’t made that correctly.  Of course, now I wonder how we didn’t get fat every summer but I realize that we spent so much time playing in the pool or the park that it must have made a difference.

So when I was on the phone the other day with The Hippo and she suggested I bake something because she wanted something baked but didn’t want to do it (nevermind that we live several hundred miles apart- we’d really like to perfect the kitchen portal one of these days), I realized that she was right.  I should bake something!  But what to make?  Nothing fancy- it’s impossible to do fancy when I’m home with a toddler.  But nothing too ho-hum either.  No point in baking something boring when I don’t really bake that often anymore.

I remembered Lady Gouda’s post about Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I had read it when I was pregnant and had just been told I had gestational diabetes and was therefore off sugar for the last weeks of pregnancy.  It was torture reading the recipe and knowing that I couldn’t make them.  I decided that these were just what I needed to bake.  I’ll link to both Gouda’s post and where she found it at Eat, Make Read.  I’ll also put the recipe below but just wanted to make sure I gave credit where credit is due.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are delicious.  They have a more complex flavor than regular chocolate chip cookies but be warned, the dough must be refrigerated at least 6 hours so this is not a quick fix treat.  Totally worth the wait though.  You can bump up the complexity by adding a tiny sprinkle of sea salt on top as soon as they come out of the oven but I don’t bother with this last piece.  Yummy either way.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, browned
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 oz (1 pkg) semisweet chocolate chips
fleur de sel (optional)

Directions:

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, place both sugars. I like to break my eggs into a small bowl just in case something goes awry.  

Ok– and here’s where I fail as a food blogger– you need to brown your butter.  A good food blogger would have photos of this as it’s the most unique part of the cookies.  Me?  I forgot to photograph this part.  *hanging my head in shame*  Basically, heat your butter over medium heat and stay with it.  As it melts, the solids will sort of separate and you’ll see some yellow and white.  Be patient and watch it.  As it begins to brown, you’ll start to see it change color from yellow to a more golden color.  Smell it as well, it will begin to smell sort of nutty and dark.  Don’t let it burn- the line between brown butter and burned butter is very fine.  If you click here, you’ll see an example. Once it’s browned, let it cool.

Add the butter to the sugar and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the eggs, one by one, and mix in between additions.  Add the vanilla and mix.  When it’s all smooth, it’ll be a sort of tan, smooth, thick mixture.  Add the flour and mix (The original recipe has you add the flour in two parts but you know me, lazy).

Once it’s all incorporated, it will be smooth and yummy smelling.  Resist the urge to sample now.

Add the chocolate chips- I never use a whole bag and I go back and forth between using semi-sweet and milk.  I prefer milk but sometimes they’re too sweet.  With this recipe, I think the bittersweet are better– this is more of an “adult” cookie so it makes for more complex flavor.

Once again, I differ from the original recipe- I mix the chips with the mixer.  Once again, lazy.

Now, this doesn’t look like regular cookie dough.  It’s smoother, darker, richer.  And it tastes terrific.  Even if you’re concerned about salmonella, it’s worth the risk of a spoonful.  Amazing.  Anyway, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  I put mine in tupperware and let it sit overnight.  When you’re ready to bake it up, preheat your oven to 375 and cover your cookie sheets with parchment or silpat (I *still* don’t own silpat.  What is up with that?!).  Use a scoop or spoon to measure out your cookies so they’ll be the same size and bake evenly.

Bake for about 8 minutes.

Let them cool for a minute on the cookie sheet before you transfer them to wire racks to finish cooling.

Try not to eat them all at once.  They are that good.  Maybe pack some up and give them to friends.  Or the person who is going to photograph your daughter for free.  Or strangers.  Just don’t keep them at home- you’ll eat them all.  Trust me when I tell you this.

Summer

It’s summer! This means pool, sun, warm and fireworks!

Here’s the babe last year:

and here she is this year:

For the record, I'm not wearing the same shirt. It's just the same color.

Best of all, summer means the farmer’s market!  I love our farmer’s market.

The bounty from our first farmer's market of the year.

What to do with all those lovely tomatoes?  Well, we simply ate the cherry ones- the yellow ones were as sweet as candy.  The rest I planned to use in a tomato basil tart.  But then I saw Martha Stewart on the Today show and her tarts were so much easier that I decided to try hers.  Back to the farmer’s market today so I’ll buy more tomatoes and make that tomato basil tart later this week.

Martha’s Easy Tomato Tart

Ingredients

Puff Pastry

tomatoes

Cheese (Parmesan, mozzarella, fontina- whatever you like)

salt, pepper

Basil for garnish

Olive oil for brushing over tomatoes before baking

Directions:

Let the puff pastry defrost on the counter or in the refrigerator.Once it’s defrosted (in that you can unfold it without it cracking), sprinkle it with a little bit of flour and roll it until it’s slightly thinner- I went for about 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch.  At this point, you can either use a big round to neatly make tarts or you can use a knife to make square ones.  You want them to be big enough to hold full tomato slices so base it on the size of your tomatoes.  Set them aside on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silpat.  Slice your tomatoes.

Grate your cheese and spread a layer on the puff pastry squares/rounds.  Place a few tomato slices atop the cheese.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then brush with olive oil. 

Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melty and the puff pastry is golden brown.    Garnish with fresh basil and serve warm.  Although, full disclosure, I also ate these at room temperature and they were still quite fine.  Sorry about the lack of photos on this post- I ended up making them while on the phone with L, a good friend I hadn’t spoken with in some time.  So I forgot to photo.  Sorrysorrysorry.

Food Preferences

I sometimes think that I have a food file cabinet in my mind.  In it, there are folders for each of my friends and family for whom I cook.  In the folders are favorite foods (Husband: steak, chocolate pudding and ice cream), allergies and dislikes.  It’s the dislikes that get me because they aren’t all the organized.  It’s more like I have a list of foods that people in my life dislike and I have to match the food to the person.

The list reads like this:

Peas, cilantro, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms.

The list to match it with is this:

My friend S, my cousins E & M, former roommate K, my bestie C. and myself. Happily, I know which one goes with me (cilantro).

Of course, this is only a problem when I’m making big dinners or when I’ve invited someone to dinner and can’t remember their dislike.  All of which is to say that what I made tonight for dinner definitely fell in the dislike category for someone as it was almost entirely pea- based.  Luckily, I know it’s my friend, S., who hates peas.  So while I encourage all of you to head over to Smitten Kitchen to check out this pea pesto recipe, I will say that S., if you are reading this,  avoid it at all costs.

It was really delicious.  Thanks to my friend R. for posting it on facebook.  I didn’t bother taking photos because Smitten Kitchen’s photos put mine to shame.  Trust me when I say, go and make this tonight.  It was so, so good. Light but satisfying and it tastes like summer in a bowl.  Unless you hate peas in which case, it will not taste like summer.  It will taste terrible.

Laughter At A Funeral

One of the hallmarks of my family is laughter.  No matter what the situation, we can (and do) always laugh.  This is expected during vacations- all of us at Disneyworld, for instance- or family dinners (like the time we were all seated around my grandmother’s table, eating lobster.  My cousin, M., was somewhat lobster-inexperienced and she managed to snap a claw and send it shooting 35 feet across the living room to the den doors).  It’s not as expected at, say, a funeral.  But laugh at funerals we do.

A perfect example happened a few weeks ago.  My great-aunt passed away.  She was the last of my grandparents’ generation.  My Auntie E. had been married to my grandfather’s brother.  She had three sons and those three sons used to play with my mother and her brothers. Over time, they drifted apart and the three sons all moved away.  My mom and I still saw my Auntie E., although my mother was much better at visiting her than I was.  Auntie E. was at my wedding and managed to really boogie- we were all impressed with how lively she was. 

After my wedding, she took a turn for the worse and in the last years of her life suffered a great deal.  My mother continued to visit and when Auntie E. was lucid, she would laugh at stories about me and baby G.  A few weeks ago, she passed away.  Her boys managed to come back into town in time to say goodbye.  The funeral was a few days later.  My mother and I attended, as did one of my uncles, who had flown in from the midwest.  At the funeral, I learned about my Auntie E.  She was an extremely liberal, opinionated woman with extremely high expectations- for herself and for those around her.  She went back to college when she was in her early 60’s and finished her degree.  Auntie E. was a WAVE and spent some time in Georgia.  I was also reminded of things I had known but had forgotten.  The koi pond in her backyard, her love of gardening and her love of cooking.

After the service, my mother, uncle and I decided to go find my grandparents’ graves so that we could “visit.”  It’s an awfully big cemetery.  Pretty, but big, with sloping hills and winding drives.  We each had a car with us because we had come from three different locations.  We drove up to the admin building and got a map.  My uncle led us out and down one of the drives.  And around a corner.  And back up a drive.  Then he stopped, got out,  walked over to my mother’s car and handed her the map saying, “I have no idea where we are.”My mother drove off, confidently, and we followed.  She took us down a sloping hill, up another gentle rise and around a corner.  She stopped, got out of the car and brought the map to me.  “I can’t tell, ” she said, “This place is too big!”  My uncle got out to consult.  We started to laugh- three doctorates and not one of us could read this overly complex map of a cemetery.  We all got back into the cars and tried again.  We drove for several minutes, often in circles.  Each time one of us would stop, the other two would throw their hands up in the air, in the classic “Who knows?!” gesture.  At one point, my mother, my uncle and I all drove off in different directions, as though we were all just picking a direction and hoping for the best.  Finally, my uncle and I stopped and waited for my mother to find us again.  Her little green Miyata came zipping down a hill and we agreed to leave the cemetery and come back in since we felt we could find my grandparents based on the entrance.  At this point, we were all a little giddy at the silliness of the whole endeavor.

This was more successful.  We found the correct section and started to look around at the markers.  They were on a nice, grassy hill.  We walked all around that hill.  Couldn’t find them.  “Why would this be any different?”  I pointed out, laughing.  Of course, in the end we did find the markers for my grandparents.  They were basically where we had been standing most of the time.  I’m sure there some sort of metaphor here but rather than belabor the point, I’ll simply say that, once again, my family was having far more fun than made sense for the occasion. 

My Auntie E. was the first person to serve me ratatouille.  I don’t have a good recipe for ratatouille- mine changes every time.  So I will link you to this one.  Give it a try.  Report back.