Monday, October 31, 2011

'Animal style' peanut butter Halloween cookies

I once shared a dorm room during a high school overnight academic program with a girl named 'Taryn.'  Not 'Karen' or 'Tara.'  'Taryn,' like the two names had been smushed together by her parents. Taryn was from a tiny town named Ghent.  She was also one of those people who constantly made me feel inferior, every second I was around her.  Not because she was smart--although she was.  It was her other extracurricular activities, however, that intimidated me.

The first night, Taryn gave me a test that I would be forced to take more than the SATs for many years afterward--The Purity Test.  It was a series of yes or no questions.  A list I cannot reprint on a family blog.

Even though I lied and exaggerated about several of the answers, Taryn was still shocked at my high score. For the next eight weeks, Taryn would regale me with tales of running shoe-optional adventures with her cross-country team--including the coach.  She recounted over and over again what she said was her favorite novel: The Story of O. Even when eating what was, at the time, one of my favorite breakfasts--toast with peanut butter and blood red strawberry jelly--she could ruin my appetite simply telling me an anecdote from her own Story of Taryn, one of which involved white jeans.

The weird thing about Taryn was that none of my guy friends found her particularly sexy. It wasn't just that she was an 88 pound, tiny waif with straight hair she usually wore in a bun, and very conservative clothes (think khakis and pastel sleeveless sweaters).   Even for a sixteen-year-old guy, at some point, when you talk about something enough, eventually your audience's attention starts to glaze over.

That's kind of how I feel about the new trend for 'sexy' Halloween costumes. I am sure that sexy Halloween costumes have been popular in previous years, but this year every Halloween costume website I surf features an entire page devoted solely to sexy Halloween costumes.  Sexy nurse. Sexy cheerleader.  Sexy pirate. Sexy Elmo.

Usually, if you have to advertise something as 'sexy'--it isn't.

My advice--eveb if you want to bring sexy back to Halloween, save the extra cash.  Because the more you advertise you are sexy, the less sexy and more desperate you seem.

Many foods are sexy, but because of its association with childhood, peanut butter, despite its many devotees, is not a sexy food.  However, by making these peanut butter cookies, you will show that even with a glass of milk and cute peanut butter animal cookies in hand, you are still one sexy beast.


Woof! Woof!

Peanut Butter Cookies 'Animal-style'

Makes 24 cookies

From the Joy of Baking--a great, intensely peanut buttery recipe, with more peanut butter per cookie than is traditional

Ingredients 

3/4 cup room temperature butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 large, beaten egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup smooth peanut butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt
Candy corn and semi-sweet chocolate chips (for decoration)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350F and prepare two parchment-lined baking sheets. Cream butter and sugars. Fold in egg, vanilla, and peanut butter.

2. Sift flour, baking soda and salt.

3. Spoon dry into wet mixture until well incorporated.  Form into balls.


4. To make 'cats,' flatten the peanut butter balls and make whiskers with a fork. Pinch 'ears' on the left and right upper corners of the cookie.


5. To make 'dogs,' simply flatten the peanut butter balls and shape into an oval, rather than a circle.





6. To make 'horses,' form two ovals with the ball of dough, stick the 'neck' and 'head' together.


7. Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Cookies will seem slightly underdone after being removed from oven.

8. Press candy corn and chocolate chips into the still-soft cookie, as illustrated above. Remove from baking sheet after 10 minutes and cool thoroughly.

The horse design still needs a bit of work, so here is a bit of inspiration in case you think of a better idea.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

If a black cat (cookie) crosses your path...


The first book I ever read was an alphabet book by Dr. Seuss. But the second book I ever read was very, very dangerous indeed.  It was intended for adults and nearly pushed my mother over the edge.

The book was called Animals Can be Almost Human. It was part of a Reader's Digest series of books full of tales culled from the famous magazine.  The stories were simply-written enough for me to understand.

As the title suggests, the stories were about inspiring human-animal relationships.  They were all true, or at least as true by Reader's Digest standards. (I can't vouch for its fact-checking). They featured children who fostered abandoned songbirds and taught the creatures how to perform singing and dancing tricks and save a home from carbon monoxide poisoning.  I remember several anecdotes very well, including one about a broken, friendless, sickly boy who trained an abused horse. And a chickadee taught to whistle popular tunes while the London Blitz burned outside.  A descented skunk that was as tame as a dog. A Pekinese that loved cake. A boy who got a pony for Christmas.

I would scour my yard, looking for an abandoned bird I could teach to tie and untie my shoes or a puppy without a collar in need of a home.

And, can I just write that again: A boy who got a pony for Christmas.

Eventually, I graduated to pet care books. "Look mom, it's so easy to make a dog bed out of a discarded paper box!  Or a hamster cage out of chicken wire!"  I tried making some of these items myself, the only time I showed interest in making anything practical. I was the type of child who had a messy room but a spotless dollhouse.

The books at my school library were very old, and featured girls with big hair bows and boys with knee socks, so some of their suggestions, like keeping a flying squirrel for a pet or baby goats in the shed, were a bit ambitious for the NJ suburbs.  I got very angry at my mother when she muttered about zoning laws, salmonella in turtles, and rabid raccoons.

Although my father was so fastidious he insisted we all remove our shoes at the door of the house and literally threw a fit if I left jacks in the middle of the living room, eventually I proceeded through fish, gerbils, mice, rats, a guinea pigs, and a parakeet.  Every pet was getting me closer to what I really wanted: a dog.

I think what pushed my parents over the edge was this:




The comic Garfield began to become very popular amongst little girls: Garfield diaries, t-shirts, cartoon books, stuffed animals. As my bed began to fill with images of the fat orange cat, next to my Snoopys, my mother began to fear that I would ask for a cat, instead of a dog.

My mother hated cats. She cleaned my grandmother's house after it was rented by some unneutered toms and the family that loved them (but not enough to change the toms' litter box on a regular basis).

  So off we went to the ASPCA to get an adult, housebroken dog.


















I have only had dogs ever since (this is a photograph of my current animal).  However, I have always found the cat people-dog people divide to be a bit silly.   I love all animals.

Black cat chocolate cookies are tasty and adorable--an unusual combination in holiday cookies.  Just don't feed them lasagna.

Note: This is adapted from Taste of Home. However, I strongly suggest using Hershey's Dark unsweetened cocoa powder to avoid a brown-colored cat.  Also, instead of using red hots for 'noses' I used chopped bits of candy corn.  This is both easier and, in my view, a more harmonious flavor than cinnamon red hots in the middle of a chocolate and candy corn cookie.

Black Cat Cookies
Black Cats to the left, Sweet Potato Bread to the right


Ingredients

1 cup butter (2 sticks), room-temperature
2 cups of granulated sugar
2 large, beaten eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa (I suggest Hershey's Dark because it gives a nice black hue to baked goods).
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
candy corn for decorating

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter and sugar. Fold in eggs and vanilla.
3. Sift flour, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder, baking soda together.
3. Incorporate sifted dry mixture into 'wet' mixture.
4. Form 24 dough balls.
5. Flatten cookie. Use a fork to make 'whiskers' on the left and right of the 'face.' Press two candy corn pieces, white side down, onto each flat of the cookie for eyes.
6. Chop up additional candy corn.  Press a 'nose' right underneath the pointed 'eyes.'
7. Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes on the parchment sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sweet Potato Bread: The Memory of Marching Band Still Refuses to Yield...

"I suck."

"No you don't." My band director, Mr. Music Man, was a tiny man who still weighed the same as when he wrestled in high school. He had acne as bad as some of the musicians he conducted. However, he did not sugar-coat his criticism: "I can't really hear you.  The worst person in the band I CAN hear."
 
My school had limited extracurriculars. I did Mock Trial in the winter and spring.  Occasionally, I'd be allowed to do a non-singing, non-dancing role in the school musical. I later became Vice-President of the National Honor Society, in case the President was ever assassinated. But back then, I was ambitious about getting into a good college, so I needed a fall activity.

After nearly impaling myself with a flag pole, I decided that the color guard was not for me. It gives you an idea of the desperation of the Music Man that I was drafted into the marching band, despite having no musical experience whatsoever.

I began by playing the base drum and then shifted to second trombone.  If this makes it seem as if I had latent talent, please understand that marching band music is very simple.  The second trombone repertoire only required me to play several notes, honking away in hiding at the base cleft. The first trombone, a dashing swimmer whom I had a hopeless crush on, soared and slid away at the glossy, brassy melody.
I have no photos of myself online playing the trombone, but you see it's not an attractive instrument.

My ineptitude was an apt metaphor for the entire marching band.  You people who are in band now, you have no idea.  With the popularity of Glee, band has retro cool.  Back then, band was polyester suits and supportive nurse shoes.  No one looked good in those uniforms.  The wan, hippie saxophonist who wanted to still play the flute had a uniform three sizes too large and she couldn't march because her pants dragged along the grass.  Her policeman's hat was rakishly askew as her waist-length hair flapped in the breeze, down to her waist.  Ophelia, as interpreted by John Phillips Sousa.

Most of the time, I was desperately trying to tell my left foot from my right foot, which seemed an impossible task while trying to purse my lips and blow through an enormous instrument. But sometimes I looked at the band with Music Man's eyes and felt sad for him.  It was a true rag-tag bunch, a real motley crew (unlike the crappy 80s metal band that clearly failed 7th grade English):

There was:

  • The freakishly young boy with no social skills, who played percussion. Everyone said his parents had him injected with some weird serum to boost his intelligence that could only be found in Canada.

  • The freakishly strong, incredibly talented snare drum girls. Both of them had the sincerest, deepest, and dare I say, NICEST Christian faith I had ever encountered up until that time, and with their powerful sense of rhythm, I just knew they were channeling the Little Drummer Boy in their minds.

  • The talented drum major who looked like an African American even though his biological parents were Caucasian (we did not ask) and made wearing the plumed hat look almost cool.  He was so patient with the woodwinds as they would drift outside of the predetermined formation, every time, yet again...

  • My closest friend in the band, who grew up to be a rabbi, played the saxophone with a wry, ironic squint on his face, and was unsparingly honest with me about how big the bright Smurf blue polyester suit made my ass look.
  • Several hippie girls who looked like extras from Sergent Pepper's  Lonely Heart's Club Band. 
  • And the first trombone, who was a swimmer and had the physique of David that not even a plastic, breast-flattening breastplate could conceal.  Michael Phelps would have wept.

Most of the time, because of the very varied level of abilities, the music was a formless cloud.  Even the good musicians couldn't cover up the bad.  And often the good musicians were bored, forgot the formation, and would turn the wrong way, casting the orchestration and the notes to the wind.  But Music Man tried.  Oh, he tried.  More than the music (which featured such standards as "Rule Britannia," the "Indian War Cry" and "We Will Rock You") I remember slipping and sliding in the band bus along with the instruments and going to Friendly's after games to eat enormous peanut butter sundaes or to Jersey diners to eat fried mushrooms.


We all loved band and knew that the football team was getting its just desserts given the way we played, while we scarfed down our Happy Endings.

And no, that wasn't a euphemism for anything.  Nothing is a bigger turnoff than seeing a girl playing an instrument as tall as she is, her cheeks puffed out, wearing a big blue uniform.

Some days, our peaceful sense of calm was disturbed with flashes of what could have been.  Thanks solely to the efforts of Music Man, one year were were allowed to compete at the lowest level at a marching band invitational at Giant Stadium.  I remember the feeling of astroturf beneath my supportive waffle-soled shoes and how the light reflected off of the drum major's shiny hat.  But most of all I remember seeing the winning band from the very highest level of competition.

Maybe my memory plays me false, but I recall them wearing...kilts and tall, puffy hats...like the spirit of the British bands that marched through the colonies had been channeled into a New Jersey high school named Monsignor Donovan.   Their uniforms were starched, perfect....the arrangement was Andrew Lloyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera, but it was so much better than the cheesy Broadway tunes I used to listen to after school ("I'll show them all one day, like the Phantom!"). The arrangement had pared down Weber's excess and stripped the story to its barest essentials.  The color guard girls had white, writhe-like costumes.
Our color guard looked more like this...

Then, suddenly, a boy and a girl broke forth from the color guard.  The boy was dressed in a black shirt and pants with a mask. He was Erik, the Phantom.  A color guard girl put down her flag and became Christine.  They mimed the entire play, taking the story back to when it was actually art, a la Lon Chaney in the silent original.  The color guard lifted up different visual arrangements, and as the kilted band wove in and out like a wave. Finally, a gigantic phantom face was created as the guard lifted up white and black flags in perfect unison.  Erik and Christine drifted away, ever unhappy, forever parted as "The Music of the Night" came to a close.

Marching band music is cheesy and all-American and lots of people make fun of it. I know some people would have looked at that arrangement and said: "it is done well and took effort, but was it worth it in the first place?"

I had several coffees at the Inkwell (a fetid coffee shop where it was unwise to eat the food) with my band mates after watching Monsignor Donovan, still awed at what was possible, what we would never achieve. Maybe it was the sleeplessness or the caffeine buzz but at the time I totally thought it was worth it--all that effort.  And I still do.

You can't get more all-American than marching bands sweet potato bread.  This is a great way to get rid of extra sweet potatoes after Thanksgiving, or if you want a nice alternative to pumpkin. Make some for your kids with hot chocolate after they come home from a high school football game.  Just don't ask them what the score was, or if the marching band was any good. Unless they go to Monsignor Donovan.

Sweet Potato Bread


Ingredients

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice blend (allspice, ginger, cloves)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
12 ounces of skinned, mashed cold sweet potatoes (approximately 2 medium potatoes)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup neutral-tasting vegetable oil like canola
2 large beaten eggs
Pecans (optional, for garnish)

Glaze

2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350. Oil and line a 8x4 loaf pan with parchment.
2. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and sugar together
3. Blend potatoes, honey, oil and eggs.  Gradually add the dry into the wet mixture.
4. Pour into the pan.  Press several pecans on the top as garnish. Bake for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted clean.
5.  Remove from pan. Whisk together the sugar and honey.  Add water until a creamy white icing is formed.  Pour glaze on top of loaf.  Cool at least an hour before cutting and serving.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Smitten Kitchen's Brown Butter Sugar Shorties: 282 comments and counting

When I was six or so, I loved the Brady Bunch.  I even stuffed my hair into pigtails, in the hopes of looking like Cindy Brady.





Because, you know, if I looked like Cindy, then one day, when I became old, like really old--eighteen, I might look like:

Of course, Maureen McCormick developed bulimia, but all I knew at the time was that she had cool, flippy hair.  I was convinced that despite my brown locks I would grow up to have cool, flippy blonde hair that I could swing in a boy's face when I wanted to flirt with him. Instead, my mother insisted cutting my curly hair at home to save money, leaving me with a vaguely Peter Pan-esque, Davy Jones-style haircut rather than that of the coveted Marsha.

By the time I hit nine years old, my hair had grown into a great, fluffy mass. Kids used to call me "the wig lady" in school, and no amount of Nexxus could tame it.  Part of the problem was that big hair was supposed to be a 'good thing'  in the 1980s, and every hair product was designed to maximize rather than minimize volume. As a tubby kid with thick glasses, the last thing I needed was hair to make me look even bigger.  I tried using Pert Plus once, to be like the other girls in my class. Shampoo and conditioner in one?  Oh, they lied!  My mother had to cut out a knot the size of a brillo pad from my 'fro after I used green goo.

Unsurprisingly, I would come home every day from school, my hair crunchy with spitballs and cry.

These formative experiences often made me want to seem as unobtrusive as possible. Except when I was performing (I had a great 'turn' as the Queen of Hearts in 6th grade), I tried to hide.  By the time I was an adult I had perfected the art of disappearing.  I could creep so stealthily that despite living in some horrible neighborhoods in my 20s, no one ever mugged me (knocks wood) because I knew how to dart in-between the shadows.

Unfortunately, being unobtrusive is great if you're an chubby, unattractive prepubescent. Being a blogger aspiring to be the next Hot Young(ish) Thing...it ain't so great to be unobtrusive.  So I was totally jealous when I stumbled upon Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties by Smitten Kitchen.

I am obsessed with browned butter, but what made my head explode was how this recipe with nary and egg, and only the most basic ingredients of sugar, flour, vanilla and salt could generate 282 comments, debating the recipe's virtues.

The debate was this--following Deb's directions, and in Deb's pictures, thick, luscious slabs of cookies were produced by the rolled dough. Yet about half of the commentators, while they loved the taste, said that their efforts produced thin, crispy little rounds and complained about the sandy taste and the spreading. The other half said that these were the best cookies they had ever tasted.

You can see from my photograph what my results were....


Some spreading but a tasty cookie.  Reading comment 258  (yes, I did not go to graduate school in vain!  I read the comments), I didn't cream the browned, chilled butter to create a more solid dough.  Then, after the cookies cooled, I refrigerated them, to firm them up a bit.

Although they are rather plain, they taste lovely.  Much like the shy, slightly unattractive girl on the cookie platter of life who has inner beauty.

I made the recipe almost exactly as stated, but I'll rewrite it for 'technique's sake' since I incorporated some of the comment's suggestions in what I did:


Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon  vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt



Directions

1. Brown butter in a pan, remove from heat and cool for 1 hour in the refrigerator


2. Mix butter and brown sugar together, but do not cream, then add vanilla.   Sift salt and flour together, incorporate into butter mixture.

3. Form dough into a 'log' (mine was about eight inches), wrap in parchment.  Chill for 2 hours until very firm.

4. Slice into 24-32 'rounds.'  Instead of rolling the log in brown sugar like Deb, I just sprinkled some brown sugar on top of the cookie flats.

5. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.  Cookies will be very fragile.  Chill after thoroughly cooled for at least 1 hour in the fridge to create a (slightly) sturdier cookie.





Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Toasted Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

 As a 'creative type,' I've always shied away from taking instruction. This led to stunningly good grades in history and English, at least when I could finally break away from learning grammatical structures and do independent research. It also lead to stunningly bad grades in math and science which involved listening to what the teacher said and actually paying attention in class. 

I don't have the stereotypical personality of a baker, with a love of order and a house with everything straightened to right angles.  But I've changed quite a bit in the past few years, and I have come to realize how often when we are trying to be the most creative, we often fall into cliches and bad habits. By using a structure--whether it is iambic pentameter when writing a poem or the correct alignment in some physical activity, or a recipe, only then can real innovation take place.  Preexisting structure forces us out of our comfort zones.

And if Henry Ford tried to re-invent the wheel, we'd all be dragging ourselves around on top of square-wheeled cars...and using horses as a more efficient means of regular transportation.  Although, that might be a good thing.


I remember when taking some poetry classes, quite often lazy students would scrawl out on a piece of loose-leaf paper something like this:

Can't think of a poem.  
Can't think of a poem.
Oh man.
Can't think!
Poeme!

And then they'd complain when they got a C+.  "It's free verse!  You're stifling my creativity."

Compare that with the very technical execution of a villanelle, like "Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night."  Or this poem "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop:

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster. 


Similarly, people who claim to be 'daring' and never follow recipes often find themselves making the same dish over and over again. Without the enforced structure of recipes, they never nudged to rewrite, to think of a new ingredient or word when confronted with the unknown technique or ingredient...to lose bad habits...

Form can actually inspire creativity, which is the essence of good baking...of course, just like Bishop 'plays' with the rhyme at the end of the poem, you can also play and jazz up a recipe, so long as you keep to the basic meter.  

Not unlike your creative potential when making this awesome recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Now, I prefer walnuts and dark chocolate chips, but you can also play around with toasted pecans and toffee chips, or toasted peanuts and peanut butter chips.  Go crazy with nuts and chips, just make sure the cookie is pure chocolatey goodness.

Ingredients

--yields 48 bite-sized cookies--

1/2 cup of finely chopped walnuts or other nuts of your preference
1 teaspoon of oil
1 teaspoon of sea salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
2 cups of semi-sweet or bittersweet chips
2/3 cups white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 beaten eggs
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup semi-sweet chips or 'chips of your choice'

Directions

1. Toast the nuts: preheat the oven to 425F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment and toss the chopped nuts with oil and sea salt.  Roast until crispy, approximately 3-7 minutes.

2. Melt the butter and chips in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Remove from stove.

3. Combine the sugar, vanilla, eggs, salt, and flour.  Add to the chocolate mixture.

4. Incorporate the toasted (now cooled) nuts.

5.  Chill for 4 hours.  After 1/2 hour, when mixture is thoroughly cool, add the chips.  Don't wait until the mixture is fully chilled, because the dough will be too stiff and hard to stir.

6. Preheat oven to 350F. Roll dough into tablespoon-size balls.  Line 2 cookie sheets. Cook in two batches of 24 for approximately 8-11 minutes per batch. Yields 48 small cookies.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pecan Sandies Clone: I don't need no stinkin' elves

I have a pretty impressive geek resume.  I can quote entire passages of Blackadder and Monty Python verbatim. I've read my fair share of the Great Books. I like PBS and NPR. I love classical music and opera. I didn't go to my senior prom but I did watch each and every single episode of the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice.


However, there is one glaring omission: science fiction.  Other than Tom Baker and Peter Davidson in Doctor Who (which I loved more for their Britishness than the fantasy element), sci-fi leaves me cold.  With my fellow geek friends I would sit as they would compare various Star Trek episodes and anthologies of books with pictures of dragons and space ships on them. As my friends grew more excited, for me, it was like watching someone talk enthusiastically in a foreign language.  You sort of admire the passion but long for subtitles to understand what brings forth such emotion.

Dungeons and Dragons?  Ugh!  (Except for the Saturday morning cartoon). Don't even get me started on the multi-sided dice and being 'dungeon-mastered' by a guy in a black t-shirt emblazoned with a bad heavy metal band, while sitting in someone's basement in the 80s!


However, I've often regretted NOT loving a genre so immoderately. When I was a young teen, I won a few poetry and playwrighting awards.  Someone even told me: "you will go far with your writing, she [referencing a dear friend of mine who I regarded as equally talented, if not more so] writes too much about vampires and darkness, but you try to scratch the true surface of the human heart."  Egotistical little bitch that I was, I treasured this comment for many years.

The punchline is that SHE became a professional fantasy novelist and I became a boring editor who only gets to write for free on a food blog.


I was always particularly suspicious of the Keebler Elves, given that they reminded me of having to hear my guy friends who were obsessed with The Hobbit debate the merits of Bilbo Baggins versus Frodo and do their best Gandolf imitations.  For Hours.  And this was before the films were released!  However, I have to admit that this clone of their famous Pecan Sandies is pretty brilliant.  It doesn't have a lot of sugar but  is packed with buttery goodness.






Butterscotch Pecan Sandies

Adapted from Guittard Website

-yields 40 large cookies (approximate)-

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large, beaten egg
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups Nestles' Butterscotch Chips

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line 4 baking sheets with parchment, or bake in multiple batches.

2. Sift flour and baking soda together

3. Cream butter and sugar.  Add salt, vanilla, and egg.  Incorporate flour mixture slowly, followed by pecans and butterscotch chips.

4. Scoop with a rounded tablespoons onto parchment. Bake 10-12 minutes per batch.  I baked two cookie sheets at a time.

Note: The Guittard website states a yield of nine dozen using a teaspoon-sized scoop for these cookies and 8-10 minutes baking time. I don't think the yield would be as large, but if you would like you can make these cookies much smaller.  They will probably be more crisp than mine, but I prefer a softer butter cookie.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Browned Butter Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Cookies: Men should make passes at girls who wear glasses (and make oatmeal cookies)


When I was eleven I read a book called It All Began with Jane Eyre, about a young girl named Franny who liked reading Jane Eyre while sitting in her closet, gorging herself on sour cream and onion-flavored potato chips and dip.   Since I liked Sherlock Holmes and potato chips, I decided to emulate Franny, much to my mother's chagrin when she vacuumed the house.

  Jane Eyre proved to be both a good and a bad teacher. At age eleven, I much preferred Wuthering Heights, which told the tale of Catherine Earnshaw and her fondness for brooding stableboys named Heathcliff. Unlike Emily Bronte's heroine Cathy, Charlotte Bronte's plain Jane waits for Rochester's mad wife Bertha to die and gains an independent income before she marries. Jane decides not to become Rochester's mistress and lose all social legitimacy and become dependent on him.  Catherine weds a weathly, socially powerful, and wimpy guy named Edgar, spurns Heathcliff and ends up in a loveless marriage and dies in childbirth despite her fondness for wandering the moors in childhood.  Jane is her own woman, Catherine is shackled until freed by death.

But I still liked Catherine best.

Also, I have come to the wisdom that salt and vinegar is a far superior flavor than sour cream and onion for potato chips and the idea that a plain girl could burn with an inner fire that would snag a hot and sexy man is about as realistic as suddenly discovering that a poor orphan is actually a heiress. 





You'd think, growing up in New Jersey, I would have known better when I fantasized that a guy could overlook my inability to apply eyeliner.  I mean, when I was chosen to play the romantic lead in a community theater production because no one under the age of fifty auditioned, the director was so saddened by the enforced casting of a short, brunette with curly hair he plastered me with more makeup than a drag queen and put a wig over my hair. The sixty-year-old woman with bright red hair who thought SHE should have been cast as the twenty-year-old romantic lead kept saying: "She looks so plain."  Ah, NJ--the only state where the motto is--'get all dressed up and then look in the mirror and put something EXTRA on."
As opposed to take that one thing off, for understated elegance.

The literary geek in me thinks that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights should be required reading for all junior high kids because of their use of first person narration and literary doubling (respectively).  The wise woman within me thinks that the triumph of plain Jane Eyre over pretty rich girls with big ta-tas like Blanche Ingram makes the book better classified as science fiction than literary romance. And the idea that a girl is always going to pick the rich guy over the stableboy in Wuthering Heights makes it a book filled with 'teachable moments.'

Have I tantalized you to make these oatmeal cookies yet, Mr. Rochester? 

Beneath the healthy surface lurks the intense flavor of browned butter.  Whip off the glasses of the pretty girl's face (she never seems to need them in the movies), ignore the flavorless sugar cookies with artificially-colored sugar on the plate and grab these instead.  You won't be sorry!

Browned Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Raisins and Walnuts

Adapted from Alice Medrich


-makes 32 small and 24 large cookies-

Ingredients
2 cups rolled oats (I used quick oats)
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt (and more for sprinkling on the cookie)
1 large beaten egg
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins (I used 1/2 cup golden raisins, 1/2 cup dark raisins)

Directions
1. Place the oats in a bowl and soak in the water. They will be 'clumpy.'
2.  Sift flour, baking soda, spices, and salt
3. Brown the butter--bring to a bubbling simmer--over medium heat.  Remove from heat and add sugar, vanilla, salt, and after the mixture has cooled, then add the egg (make sure the butter isn't so hot that the egg will cook).  Stir in the flour mixture and then the oats, one cup at a time, then incorporate the walnuts and raisins.
4. The original recipe suggests chilling overnight or for at least 2 hours.  I chilled it for 1 1/2 hours and was still pleased with the result.


One warning with the chilling--I have read that chilled oatmeal dough can get very stiff and hard to scoop, unlike chilled chocolate chip cookie dough, so I 'scooped' the dough onto parchment sheets and covered them with plastic wrap in the refrigerator so the cookies would be pre-made and ready to pop in the oven. 

When making the cookies, use 1 or 1/2 tablespoons of dough.


5. Preheat the oven to 350F and bake for 10 minutes for small cookies, 12-15 for large cookies. Rotate halfway in between.  Cookies will be soft when taken from the oven, so make sure to cool completely before removing from the rack and serving.