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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.