Today we’ve got cookies and sisters on our hands. You may remember me talking about Zoe, my youngest sister, and the weekend she graduated. But I’m not sure that I’ve talked a whole lot about Rachael. She’s the middle sister in our family and loves to cook and eat as much as I do (see proof below).
Actually, she’s a far better cook than I am. She’s one of those intuitive kitchen people who just wings it without a recipe. Confidently. And it all turns out just fine. There’s another area where Rachael and I differ in the kitchen: she’s a planner, menu-writer, and list maker. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love a good list. But I’m not the kind of person who maps out what I’ll prepare and eat for the week, makes a shopping list, and lets that list dictate what I buy at the grocery store.
I’m in awe of this. Truly in awe. So much so that I keep having clarifying phone calls with Rachael:
“But what if you see something there that isn’t on your list? You don’t buy it?” I ask.
“Really?! But I never know what I’ll feel like eating until I get to the store–don’t you like checking out all the new products and produce and seeing what looks good?” I ask.
“Um, that’s why you spend way more than I do at the grocery store,” Rachael insists.
“So seriously? You make a list and don’t buy anything that’s not on it?”
This is seriously a revelation for me. Now I understand being busy and having a family and needing to do a bit more planning and footwork, but neither Rachael nor I have kids of our own yet. I guess it’s just a different way of thinking and approaching meals. I tend to let my mood, how my day’s going, and what I’ll be up to later that evening dictate what I’ll eat for dinner. I always love learning about the different ways people approach the same task or routine–the simple act of preparing dinner. I just know that Rachael’s approach makes me sweat just thinking about it, and my approach (last minute runs to the grocery store, eating later than most) probably makes her sweat. The way she does it is something, I joked with her, that I aspire to do when I grow up someday. Until then, as Rachael assures me, I’m just spending far too much money at the grocery store. She’s probably right.
The one thing she did advise me to do as a way to start small is to begin looking at my pantry more and seeing what ingredients I can use before buying bags of new groceries. I told her if I did that I could probably get away with not going to the grocery store for six months given all of the dried beans, pastas, soups, and nuts I have on hand. But truthfully, I was a little inspired. And it seemed like a good challenge. What could I make this very second without hitting up the store using only what I had on hand? I stared into the cupboards and saw (surprise, surprise) a lot of baking ingredients and a new jar of peanut butter: Peanut butter cookies! I know, I know, it’s not dinner. But it’s a darn hearty snack and that’s got to count for something.
If you follow me on twitter, you can attest to the peanut butter cookie chatter this week, and how one batch led to another batch and then two more after that. I’ve become obsessed with finding the perfect peanut butter cookie. I’m not quite sure why–mainly because the recipes I kept trying were almost right but not quite. And I wanted to make them perfect. Because what’s more depressing than a bad peanut butter cookie? After trying Gourmet’s flourless recipe, a recipe from a local bakery here in Marin, and the Magnolia Bakery’s recipe, I’ve adapted Baked Bakery’s peanut butter cookie and it’s darn near perfect: not too crumbly and not too cakey–the perfect combination of chewy edges and a super soft center. I can’t wait for you to try it and tell me what you think, list or no list. Plan or no plan.
The Baked cookbook is one my favorites for its creativity and innovative, American-style desserts. In their original recipe for peanut butter cookies, the guys at Baked call for milk chocolate chunks. I thought I’d just do a more traditional cookie here–and ended up adding peanut chunks (and a little less salt) instead.
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium-size bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape the bowl with a spatula and add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. The dough should look like and fluffy. Add the vanilla and peanut butter and beat until just incorporated.
Add half of the flour mixture and mix for 15 seconds. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the peanut halves. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least three hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart. With the palm of your hand, gently press so it flattens just a little. Then take a fork and gently imprint so each cookie will have those traditional markings. Don’t press too hard or press the cookie too flat!
Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until the tops of each cookie just barely begin to brown. Remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheet for at least 10 minutes. Use a spatula to move to a wire rack to cool completely. Storage: Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: