September 27, 2011

Skirts, Boots and Ginger Cookies

Mom's Favorite Chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies
The fall Nordstrom catalog arrived the other day. There are very few things about which I get excited enough about to be willing to kiss warm, dry, social summer goodbye,

but boots and grey sweater dresses definitely are on my buh-bye summer list. Thank you Nordstrom, for easing the transition.

These uber-special ginger cookies are another item on the"so-long summer, catch ya the next time around" list. If I believed in secret recipes, mine would be this. But for you I share.

I think of this recipe at this time of year not only for it's chewy, spicy, gingery, molasses-ey goodness, but because it is one of my mom's favorites, and she has an early autumn birthday. For twenty-five years, my mom and I have lived she on the east coast, me on the west, and rarely get to share birthdays or changing seasons. I think of her every time I make them.

 And while I'm talking about my mom, fall and fashion, let me share this: It was my mom who showed me to care about fashion. We weren't wealthy, but we were creative and industrious. Under my mom's tutelage, the very first garment I sewed at the age of eight was a simple skirt. I wore it to school the first day of the fourth grade.

I still love skirts best of all. (And, by the way, Nordstrom's skirts rock this fall.)

Dolman sleeves??? I love dolman sleeves!

It was also my mom who made way in her kitchen for her eight-year-old daughter to play and experiment. After a couple of years of those experiments going well, it was my mom who traded me dishwashing duties for cooking, an arrangement that suited this pre-teen well. All I had to do was make a list of ingredients I would need, and they'd magically appear for my next turn in the kitchen, thanks to mom.
 Cookies Men Like

These cookies also remind me of my mom because back somewhere around 1968, something like it was all the rage with her and her coffee clatch of neighbor women. Theirs was a little more dense in texture, not so chewy, but pretty darn good. They all loved it because it was a favorite with their husbands. Their overheard conversation made me think about food in a new and powerful way. While I've never met a woman who doesn't like this cookie I'll always think of them as the Cookie Men Like.
Go ahead a treat yourself to these cookies. The batch makes a mere 15 (HUGE) cookies, enough for you to have one with tea the afternoon you bake them, and the rest for your office mates, neighbors or if you're lucky, your mom. They also make a pretty fantastic I cream sandwich with brown sugar- molasses ice cream (even more huge.)

Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies
makes 15 very large cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons pumpkin or apple pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of one lemon, finely grated
a generous 1/3 cup finely snipped candied ginger
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
 Additional white sanding sugar (for rolling dough balls)

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour through ginger (six ingredients) in a large bowl.  In another large bowl, beat sugar and canola oil with stand or hand mixer until pale in color, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg. Beat in molasses. Cup at a time, gently stir in flour mixture by hand.

With a 3-tablespoon scoop, gather up a ball of dough and drop it into a small bowl of sanding sugar. Gently roll it to evenly coat the dough. Place at least 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. (Five cookies of this size will fill a standard baking sheet.) 

Bake until cookies are golden brown and crackly on top, about 12 minutes. Let cook 3 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to wire rack to complete cooling.  

Notes: These make 30 or so smaller cookies as well, just watch to time accordingly to not overbake. But there's something so generous about one large cookie rather than 3 small ones!

The lemon zest is the secret ingredient. You don't notice it's there unless it's not there, so don't be tempted to omit it.

Granulated sugar will work in a pinch, but the big white sanding sugar crystals make a really neat textural crunch around the chewiness of the cookies. I get mine at a local grocery store bakery... You might have to ask. Or order at King Arthur.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

September 23, 2011

Tomato Feast Tomato Famine

 Tomato Water Mocktails

By mid-September, most of Oregon has entered a definite early autumn. Usually. But not this year.
For the longest time, summer refused to come. I took the flannel sheets off of the beds in early June, and it was a month too soon. The flowers took their sweet time coming into robust bloom. The vegetable garden languored to the point that we anticipated our gardening efforts would be a bust. Let me add here that we had planted somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen tomato plants, and there are only two of us. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Now it's mid-September, when typically our Oregon days reach the mid-seventies for a high, and we're still popping up to the high eighties. The tomatoes have decided to ripen. All at once.

I'm not complaining. Last summer, we ended up at this time with tiny hard, green tomatoes, and you can only fry up so many of those.

All summer we've made lovely "mocktails" with a squeeze of lemon or lime, ice, a glassful of mineral water and a shake or two of any number of delicious bitters as the mood strikes. Fee Brothers makes a huge variety of bitters, and I couldn't help but to stock the pantry with lemon, West Indies orange, plum, cranberry, mint, cherry, peach, rhubarb and celery flavors. (My local liquor store only stocks a few flavors, but happily ordered in the rest on request.) This again, for two people, amounts to what I'm sure is a lifetime supply of bitters.

As I pondered a pile of very ripe tomato orbs of multiple varieties, this variation of a little afternoon refresher came to mind.

Tomato Water Mocktails
makes one

1 large or 2 small very ripe tomatoes
one small sprig basil
1 small wedge lemon
ice to fill glass
mineral water, chilled
celery bitters
  • Chop tomatoes roughly. Place a few pieces at a time in a wire mesh strainer and crush with the back of a spoon over a small bowl.
  • Tear off several basil leaves. Muddle in bottom of glass with the back of a spoon. 
  • Squeeze in the lemon wedge and toss the remains into the glass. 
  • Pour tomato water back through the strainer into the glass. 
  • Fill glass with ice. 
  • Fill glass with mineral water. 
  • Top with two or three shakes of celery bitters. 
  • Gently push down just a little on the top ice cube, not enough to disturb the lovely red tomato water layer on the bottom. 
  • Garnish with a sprig of basil flowers. Serve with dispatch.
If you want to fancy this up for company or a special occasion, I'd go to the trouble of straining, without squeezing, the tomato pulp through several layers of cheesecloth or a dish towel. Otherwise, the tomato water does separate, creating a more rustic appearance.

I invite you to share your ideas for quick, easy ways to quickly capitalize on highly anticipated fresh tomatoes while they are available and abundant. Of course there's nothing wrong with eating them out of hand for a snack or sliced for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we've been doing a lot of that, too.

September 11, 2011

Eat a Rainbow

"Roy G. Biv," my 6th grade science teacher, Mr. Rowles, said. "Memorize that, and you'll always know the colors of the rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet." I remember my mind wandering off into prisms of light; dreaming about white light splitting into the Roy G. Biv spectrum; dancing through millions of tiny raindrops each refracting white into many colors making up one huge rainbow after a storm or through the spray of a fountain; and wondering about the fabled pot of gold at each ones' end. (If I remembered that Au stood for gold, would that make the wandering thoughts okay during science class?) Rainbows and pyramids and...plates. Plates? What's inspiring about a plate to the average elementary school student?  

This salad came from my recent pondering of the new USDA food guidance icon, My Plate, which replaces the Food Pyramid. No one asked me, but it seems to me that the My Plate icon would be better suited for adult consumers, not school children. My Plate is easy to understand at a quick glance, something that could be tacked up on grocery store and restaurant walls to remind grown-ups, whom children are at the mercy of when it comes to food purchasing, of some good ratios to remember for their health and that of their kids. But is My Plate enough to inspire a generation of young people just learning about making food and lifestyle choices?
The now obsolete My Pyramid, by contrast, implies a rounded healthy life for kids. See all the young people playing outdoors? See the kiddo bounding to the top of the pyramid, symbolizing the achievement of greater health through nutrition and exercise? The ratios are still easily understood at quick glance by looking at the size of each food group slice. This is exciting stuff.

I love the Food Pyramid, and am really sorry to see it go. How can the My Plate icon even come close to offering this kind of inspiration?

This Eat a Rainbow Salad is offered to all the teachers and kids in the world who have gone back to school, and all the moms and dads who's routines have been turned upside down to get their kids there. I hope that it will remind the grown-ups of the good stuff they give to our children, and that that good stuff really can spark imaginations, change lives, and improve healthy outcomes. The salad is easy enough for even young kids to help make, and, it packs well for lunches, for both teachers and for kids who might like to eat a rainbow.

Eat A Rainbow Salad
1 cup orzo, cooked in 4 quarts water, drained and rinsed
Red stuff:
cherry tomatoes, halved
diced red pepper
Orange stuff:
orange cherry tomatoes, halved
Yellow stuff:
pattypan or yellow crookneck squash, sliced into bite sized pieces
Hungarian pepper, sliced thinly
Green stuff:
green beans, sliced into thirds
green onions, thinly sliced
fresh basil, thinly sliced
(OK, so there's no blue stuff!)
Purple stuff:
purple kohlrabi, sliced into quarters then thinly sliced
purple onion rings for garnish

In a skillet, swirl pan with extra virgin olive oil. Quickly saute yellow squash, green beans and kohlrabi until just beginning to soften, to al dente. Put all ingredients, except garnish in bowl. Top with dressing.

Juice of on freshly squeezed lemon (more yellow stuff!)
equal amount of extra virgin olive oil (eyeball it)
salt, pepper
Shake all ingredients together in a jar. Pour over salad and lightly mix until evenly coated.

September 2, 2011

Blueberry Sorbet, Buttermilk and Sweet Corn Ice Creams and Carmelized Corn Flakes

 This is the Best Dessert of Summer 2011, hands down. And there are a few people who had something to say about how it came together.

Admittedly, my favorite food blogger, Tim Mazurek, at my favorite Lottie + Doof tossed me a few bones. His recent post about "weird" sweet corn ice cream was a gift. Claudia Fleming's Sweet Corn Ice Cream was already on my list of things-to-make-if-I-could-only-afford-her-beautiful-out-of-print-cookbook (at last check, a signed first edition is $475 on e-Bay.) Tim figured it out, and pushed my lazy bones going.

Next, Tim posted about a lovely blueberry galette. We had already galetted ourselves out around here so I didn't want to go quite that direction, but his cornmeal pastry dough contains a good splash of buttermilk, which also got me thinking...

All of Tim's flavors sounded exciting and summery together, but I wanted to give them my own twist. So I made this blueberry sorbet, Tim's sweet corn ice cream, and continued to experiment with my smooth invert sugar no-cook base for the buttermilk ice cream as follows:

Sticks Forks Fingers Buttermilk Ice Cream
2 cups cold buttermilk
1 pint cold whipping cream
1 cup granulated sugar
scant 1/4 cup light corn syrup
pinch salt

Stir buttermilk, sugar, corn syrup and salt together in large mixing bowl. Let sit until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Stir in cold cream until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Freeze according to ice-cream maker directions. Makes one generous quart.

The crowning glory is the caramelized corn-flake crunchies on top. There is just no good way to describe the goodness of those buttery caramel-y crunchies and how they crown these flavors so beautifully. I adapted the recipe from The New York Times:

Caramelized Corn Flakes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dried buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 pinch salt
1 cup corn flakes

Melt butter in small microwavable bowl for about 30 seconds. Stir until butter is completely melted. Add buttermilk powder, sugar and salt. Stir until thoroughly combined. Pour cornflakes on top, and with bottom of measuring cup, smash down on them a few times to crush into medium sized bits. Stir until flakes are evenly coated.

In a small parchment lined baking sheet (a toaster oven is perfect for this) dump mixture and spread flat. Bake at 250-270 degrees until well browned and bubbly (caramelized), about 20 minutes. Watch carefully at the end not to burn. Allow to cool completely, then break up into bits and sprinkle over ice cream.

You want this dessert. You really do. Hurry. Before summer is over and it's too late and you have to file it away for next year. Hurry.

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