The cookie to end all cookies

After letting the dough sit overnight I finally got to bake my super famous hoity toity New York Times chocolate chip cookies.

I made just a couple of adjustments. To avoid another trip to the store I used all-purpose flour and skipped the sea salt topping. I found the cookies to be even saltier than most so I’m not sure why it needs more. I also used Nestle dark chocolate chips from the grocery store, which were fancier than usual, but nothing boutique-y.

The dough was a thing of beauty. After I whipped it in the mixer for several minutes it was light and fluffy (and of course I had to have a taste, too).

I had a heck of a time finding an appropriately sized cookie scoop. Martha, of course, came through with her version at Kmart. But it failed pretty much instantly and really only helped me shape the dough into balls. I had to dig most of them out of the scoop with my fingers. I guess some items require you to spend more to get a better product.

Anyway, the cookies turned out beautifully. Because of their size, I think, I didn’t worry so much about taking them out at the exact minute they were supposed to be done. When I felt like it had been close to 20 minutes, I checked on them, and they were usually ready to come out. I highly recommend a glass of cold milk with these bad boys, as they are extra large and fairly dense.

Mike said they were about as perfect as a chocolate chip cookie can get. I agree in terms of appearance. But I have to admit it would be tough to break my allegiance with the Nestle Tollhouse recipe I grew up with. It’s like that damn green bean casserole — it’s just something I can’t explain.

Almost-all local ratatouille

Ratatouille is one of those dishes that is so incredibly simple it doesn’t seem possible for it to be good, but it’s that simplicity that makes it even better than most dishes. And what I think makes it even better is using ingredients that have been pulled from the ground just hours before.

We bought quite a bit at the farmers market this week: green beans, red potatoes, blueberries, peppers, eggplant, carrots… So it just seemed like together with the tomatoes from our garden we had the makings of a fresh all-vegetable dish. In fact, the only vegetable ingredient that was not local was the garlic. I mixed red and orange tomatoes from our garden and got to use two of my favorite kitchen items: the cutting board with a drain and the soft peeler. Nice!

I used this recipe for “Simple Ratatouille” that I cut out of a newspaper. It says it’s adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I’ve used it before, and I think it’s just about perfect.

You need:

1/2 pound zucchini, sliced into 1/8-inch slices
1/2 pound eggplant, sliced into 3/8-inch slices
3 T. olive oil
1/2 pound thinly sliced yellow onions
1 sliced green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juiced
3 T. fresh parsley or basil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. First of all, salt your eggplant slices, let them sit for an hour and then rinse them off. It really helps with the bitterness.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay out the eggplant and zucchini slices (you may need 2 but I squished ’em all on one). Brush lightly with olive oil and bake until slightly brown on each side.
3. In a skillet, cook onions and peppers in 2 T. olive oil for about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and season to taste.

Slice tomato pulp into 3/8-inch strips. Place tomato slices over onions and peppers.

4. Cover the skillet and cook over low for 5 minutes. Uncover, baste with the tomato juices, raise the heat and boil for several minutes, until most of the juice has evaporated.
5. Put 1/3 of tomato mixture in bottom of a small casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1 T. herbs. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, more tomatoes and herbs, then the rest of the zucchini/eggplant and finally the rest of the tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

We ate it with a brown rice mixture and thought it was delicious and incredibly healthy. And local, of course.

An exceptional use of a nectarine

I spotted this beautiful nectarine tart at Smitten Kitchen the other day, so when I found nectarines on sale at the grocery store I bought some and decided to give it a try.

It’s a fantastic recipe — super easy, but it looks like it must have been hard — and the combination of gingersnaps, butter and soft cheese is sort of like a less rich cheesecake. With fresh fruit on top it seems just a little less guilt-inducing.

This time I followed the recipe to the letter, leaving out the chrystallized ginger as she did, and using slightly larger nectarines (so I only needed one). I don’t have a cute tart pan with scalloped edges, either, but our springform pan worked just fine.

The mascarpone cheese I bought at Gateway Market was divine. It was definitely authentic — all the writing on the container was in Italian.

I also got some fancier than usual gingersnaps and some homemade peach jam from the farmers market.

Mmmm, this has not lasted long in our fridge.

Cold noodles and gooseberry tart

Sound like a weird combo? Well, we didn’t plan to have that for dinner, but it just kinda happened. I saw this recipe last weekend and wanted to try it, and then of course we ended up with a whole lotta gooseberries at the farmers market. I made the noodles, Mike made a streusel tart with the berries.

They were both quite yummy, and I can definitely recommend them.

For the noodles I changed quite a bit. I added carrots, which I tossed in with the pasta for the last two minutes of boiling, and substituted fried tofu for the chicken (sauteeing sliced tofu in oil, then cutting it into thin strips). I also have a great fear of burned garlic, so I didn’t cook that. And I’m not a ginger fan so I left that out, although I imagine most would call that a crime. I didn’t have any sesame seeds, so that also got left out. At the end it tasted a tad bland so I added a sprinkling of salt and a little more soy sauce. But after it marinated in the fridge for about a half hour it was divine. Really flavorful. (The final photo didn’t turn out well, so here is an earlier one.)

The pie recipe came from a book called “Easy as Apple Pie” by Caroline Barty. I can’t find a link so I’ll give you the recipe here:

Blueberry Streusel Tart
(obviously works for gooseberries, too)

2/3 cup butter, softened
3 T. sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light cream (We couldn’t figure this out so went with half and half)
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. ground almonds
2 T. soft white bread crumbs (toast bread, grind up in food processor)

Filling
1 lb. 9 oz. blueberries
1/2 c. sugar
5 T. soft white bread crumbs
3 T. sliced almonds
2 T. light brown sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1. To make the pastry, beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg with a little of the flour. Stir in the remaining flour alternately with the cream and vanilla extract, mixing to make a smooth, soft dough.

2. Spoon the dough into a greased 10-1/2 inch tart pan (he used a small rectangular glass dish), then use your fingers to gently ease it evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Mix the ground almonds and bread crumbs together and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pie shell.

3. To make the filling, mix the berries with the sugar and half the bread crumbs. Spoon the mixture into the pie shell.

4. Mix the remaining bread crumbs with the sliced almonds, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Scatter the mixture evenly over the berries.

5. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until the pastry is cooked and the streusel topping is golden, 30 minutes. Serve warm or cold (it says with creme fraiche, but come on! vanilla ice cream).

Oh heavenly berries

Finally, fresh strawberries are starting to appear at our farmers market. We bought a carton, and now I wish we’d have bought two.

I decided the best use of our berries was strawberry shortcake. I sliced the berries thin and sprinkled them with a few teaspoons of sugar. Then I set them in the fridge to make syrup for a few hours.

For the shortcakes, I went with this recipe, entirely because I actually had all of the ingredients on hand. It ended up tasting fantastic, and I will use it again for sure. It makes those sponge cakes you get in four-packs at the grocery store seem totally pathetic. I can’t go back now.

Then I whipped one of those tiny cartons of cream with a little sugar and vanilla in the mixer — voila, whipped cream.

The resulting dessert was one of the better things I’ve eaten in a long, long time. I savored every bite. It was FABULOUS. YOU SHOULD MAKE IT!!

For dinner I tried making chickpea burgers and they were fairly successful, too. The recipe is from Martha. With veggie burgers you always have to worry about them sticking together on the grill (in my case a George Foreman). These made perfect medium-thick patties with a nice crust. They tasted like you would expect – falafel-ish. Sorry for the bad photo. It looked better than this.

Then we had a bunch of potatoes about to go bad in our mold factory of a kitchen. So I boiled them up and made potato salad. I decided I couldn’t go wrong with a Smitten Kitchen recipe, so I grabbed this one. I used golden potatoes instead of red because that’s what I had. And instead of two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, I used my grandma’s trick and replaced one with pickle juice. It always does the trick.

Overall, I would say we had a perfect summer meal. And you better believe I’ll be revisiting that shortcake all season long.

Tiny pies!

I had one little ball of dough left over from making my strawberry-rhubarb pie, so I decided to experiment with some little pies baked in a muffin tin. I’d seen it on notmartha before, so I knew it was possible.

For the filling I just mixed some diced strawberries with white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch until it looked about the right consistency. I rolled out the dough with my hands instead of a rolling pin because at that thinness it was really sticking to the rolling pin.

The bottom line is, when you’re making a “pie” that small, it’s a lot harder to make it look good. The dough tears, your fingers are too big to shape it correctly… But overall I think they turned out great. I cut out some little heart shapes and made some little lattices. Then topped it with sugar in the raw.

I think they baked about 20 minutes at 375.

The best part? It’s hard to overdo it when your pie is tee-tiny. Even if you had two it still wouldn’t be much.

Tofu-Wild Rice Casserole

Over the weekend my sister graduated from college, and after the sweltering ceremony we all headed to a big buffet, which blessedly had plenty of vegetarian food. The very last item was a casserole made with different kinds of rice, tofu cubes, onions and red peppers. And even though it had been languishing there for a while by the time I got to it, I really liked it. So I tried to make it.

We have an abundance of wild rice in our cupboard, thanks to a few trips to northern Minnesota. I always forget it’s back there in a giant sealed jar, just waiting to be enjoyed, if only the cook had the patience to wait 45 minutes for it.

Fortunately, my experiment with this recipe — baking it in the oven with vegetable broth — worked beautifully. And it kept me from worrying about what stage of boiling over my pot was in.

It’s kind of hard to write this up as an exact recipe, so I’ll just tell you what I did.

I put a cup of brown rice and 3/4 cup of wild rice in a 9X13 casserole dish. Then I added about three cups of vegetable broth and a tablespoon of butter. I covered it up with foil and put it in a 375-degree oven to bake. I sauteed about half an onion and half a red pepper (cut into strips) in a little oil on the stovetop until the onions turned translucent. Then I set them aside and fried some tofu rectangles (maybe an inch and a half long and 1/4-inch thick) in more oil. After about 45 minutes, I added the onions, peppers and tofu to the rice, and about a cup more broth. I baked it all another 45 minutes, then seasoned it with salt and pepper and called it a casserole. It still seemed to be lacking something in flavor, so I added a little more butter and salt at the end. Overall, it was really delicious, and full of healthy grains and tofu.

Did I have pie afterwards? Of course.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

This pie is a thing of beauty.

I couldn’t even eat a piece after I made it last night because it was too pretty to cut.

The recipe is from a recent post on Smitten Kitchen. The writer talks about how pies can “smell fear,” which I think is hilarious and true. I’ve only made pie crust by myself once before, and it actually went really well. But this time, using the food processor, everything clumped all together, and I think my ingredients were too warm. When I tried to arrange the lattice strips, a lot of them broke, so there was no chance I was going to get an actual weave out of it. Still, I think it turned out to be a damn good pie.

Maybe today I can bring myself to eat it. If I have to.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has really inspired me to start eating more locally and more seasonally. Those were both important to me already, but the truth is that unless you have a farm or a really fantastic garden, it’s hard to commit to eating that way. I’ve gotten really used to the availability of pretty much any food any time of year, but unfortunately I’ve also gotten used to how bad some of that produce tastes.

So, I’m trying to take advantage of our fabulous farmers market and the grocery stores that do carry Iowa-made products. One of the items we grabbed at Saturday’s market was a bundle of rhubarb. I’ve never made anything with rhubarb before, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a sugary, buttery rhubarb crisp.

I got the recipe from one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever had, called Simply in Season. I believe it was a gift from Mike’s grandparents. The recipes inside are really simple (as you might guess), and I think it’s that simplicity that makes them so good. The book is divided into seasons rather than type of food, so you can look up a recipe based on what’s at the market that week.

For this one I changed it a little bit, leaving out orange peel in the fruit mixture and using strawberries instead of sorrel. Feel free to go with the original.

**Warning: Do not make this recipe unless you are prepared to mow down a whole pan. It’s that good.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

4 cups rhubarb, finely chopped
2 cups strawberries, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla

Combine in large saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium and cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently.


1/4 cup water
3 T. cornstarch

Dissolve cornstarch in water. Add to rhubarb mixture and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.

1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

Mix together until crumbly. Place about 3-1/2 cups of crumb mixture into greased 9 X 13 pan and press to make an even layer. Pour in rhubarb/strawberry mixture and spread evenly. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over top. Bake in preheated oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Cut into squares.

Top with vanilla ice cream. Try not to get too much on your face.

Zucchini Bread

Finally, gardening comes full circle. Last year’s garden produced a lot, but mainly zucchini. Millions and millions of them, it seemed. We would go out one day and see a few orangey flowers and then a few days later we’d be hauling in watermelon sized zucchinis and scratching our heads as to what to do with them. So by the end of the summer when I had fed the entire newsroom with massive zucchini and I felt bad about tossing them, I started bagging them up and throwing them in the freezer. And finally, nearly a year later I had one big bag of shredded zucchini left.

So, I made zucchini bread, of course. Who wouldn’t want to see those green shreds mixed with three cups of sugar and a cup of oil?

This recipe is from Paula Deen, and with the exception of the time I made it in Colorado and it sank into a two-inch tall pathetic heap of sweet bread, it’s perfect. Soft on the inside, a little crispy on the edges. It makes two good-sized loaves.

Zucchini Bread

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup water
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini loaf pans for about 45 minutes.