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.
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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.