A New Cookie. An Old Habit.

What’s that saying? Old habits die hard—which just makes me think of Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard with a Vengeance saying, in his most perfect of a voice, “Bro? Get away from the goddamn phone!”

But moving on from my distracto moment, old habits do seem to linger on. And on. This past weekend, I decided to try a new cookie recipe I had saved from an email newsletter from The Splendid Table. I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered my basic chocolate chip and pecan cookie, so it was time for another trial.

The original recipe for these Sour Cherry and Dark Chocolate cookies is by Yasmin Khan of The Saffron Tales. It peaked my interest because of a recent education by a friend on the benefits of tart cherries. So I thought, instead of drinking tart cherry juice, why not put them in a cookie? It’s gotta be about the same, right?

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Gathered up the ingredients, which did look delicious all on their own, and thought I was set to go.

Well, that old habit I thought I had finally kicked to a curb far, far away came strolling back around the block and didn’t even knock. Next thing I know I’m partway through the recipe realizing I never read it all the through. DUH. Hi, habit. How’ve you been?

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At that point, everything came to a screeching halt as the recipe called for the dough to chill for at least an hour. Really, people. I can’t say it enough—read recipes through once, twice, three times a loon. Luckily, I had actually started baking far enough in advance of Sunday dinner that I had the time to spare.

In my late rereading of the recipe, I also figured out that I hadn’t used all the sugar that was called for. Now, it’s true, I usually do cut sugar content anyway, but this time it wasn’t on purpose.  I also didn’t chop up the dried cherries…but the dough looked and smelled amazing, so I wasn’t going to stress about it.

20170626_192329After an hour or so of reading with intermittent Instagraming and doing random tasks in the garden, I got the dough out of the fridge and balled it up. Dough balls are fun. BALLS. Speaking of dough, last week I had a discussion with coworkers about doughnuts/donuts/dough nuts. I decided I like it spelled separately and also wondered why they aren’t called dough nuts & bolts instead of doughnuts and holes.

Anyhooooo, the dough made 12 big balls. Recipe said use an ice cream scoop, I think. I don’t have one, so I just rolled them up into 12 equally-ish sized nuggets of yum. Popped those buddies in the oven at 325 for 7 minutes. They were just beginning to unball and melt out a bit, so when I turned the pan, I also sprinkled them with sea salt. Back in for another 10 minutes and they seemed done.

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I let them cool almost completely before the taste test. They were decadent. A heavy weight of a cookie, but not overly sweet—I think my sugar mishap and the addition of sea salt balanced it out. The texture was somewhere in between a cake and a brownie. Hard to describe, really. In retrospect, I may do a hotter oven for less time when I try them again. I’d prefer a crispier edge/bottom and keep them gooey in the middle.

Overall, I’d call them a success and the Greeks were pleased. Another Sunday family dinner dessert dynamo.

Original recipe by Yasmin Khan here:

Sour Cherry and Dark Chocolate Cookies 

My habit rearing it’s ugo head:

I used dried tart cherries, which I didn’t chop up (next time I definitely will), and left out the extra tablespoons of granulated sugar…I also didn’t have a full 1/4 cup measured out either. Whoops.

READ THE RECIPE ALL THE WAY THROUGH FIRST

Wheeeeeeeeee!

 

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Jenn Gin Cookies: An attempt to bring the happy back to the hour.

The funtastic start to the long weekend quickly took a turn by Saturday night when I started having some psychologically deflating side effects from the high dose of Prednisone I was put on last Wednesday. I had forgotten how intense this level can be and ended up feeling awful on Sunday. By Monday, I needed something to get me back on the positive mental track and since gardening out in the heat was out of the question, I went to the other space where I can always find something to invent, experiment with, or edit— my kitchen.

The drive to edit doesn’t stop when I leave the office. I’ve realized that it infiltrates most of my life. From the high-walled, razor-wired personal stuff to the blatant spray painting of an antique chandelier, I’ll make a tweak if I see fit.

Baking is not immune to my editorial revisions, to be sure. As I’ve said many times before, I can’t seem to follow recipes to the letter. It must be some sort of mental block. Or I’m just too damn stubborn.IMG_20170529_131438_897

So when I needed a pick-me-up on Monday, I searched the kitchen to see what I could create from what was on hand. I knew I needed a dessert for the Greek family Memorial Day dinner, so I first gathered up the basics of flour, sugar, and butter. Found three limes that were leftover from a gin and tonic weekend…and then it hit me—new cocktail cookie! I already knew a good iced-lemon cookie recipe, so I decided to adjust it into a liquored-up treat.

20170529_132811I always like a splash or two of whiskey or bourbon in a pie, and I’ve done a cookie with tequila, so gin seemed like the natural next step in editorial experimentation. Starting with the original recipe, I changed the call for lemon zest and juice to lime, added a big dousing of gin and an extra egg white (because it was there and needed to be used). I’m no chemist, and I barely math, so this was risky and I knew it. But it felt right and I was starting to feel better myself. The dough came together nicely. Perhaps a bit sticky, but the taste was spot-on. Sweet tart scrumptious. As with the lemon cookie recipe, it was hard not to sit there and just eat all the dough raw. I controlled myself and rolled out tablespoon-sized clumps onto the cookie sheet.

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While those sticky, little dough balls were in the oven, I whipped up the icing for their tops. Knowing the liquor in the dough would mostly bake off, I decided to bring back the full strength in the icing. Powdered sugar, lime zest, lime juice, and gin—what could go wrong?

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Nothing. Nothing went wrong with that. It was delicioso! Meanwhile, the dough balls were puffing up into what looked like wee biscuits. It was bizarre and I wondered if it was the addition of the gin or the extra egg white. Either way, they were looking almost fancy and I was getting excited. The previous day’s pains and discomforts were melting away as this new baking adventure was coming together.

Ding! The cookies were done, out da oven, and onto a cooling rack to set a bit before drizzling with the icing.

The smell was like the feel of summer evening drinks with a sweating glass pressed cool against a hot brow.

20170529_140426.jpgOnce they were cool enough to drizzle, the idea of a drizzle wasn’t enough anymore. I coated those biscuity looking babies to the hilt. I mean, why not? They ended up sitting in puddles of ginny sweet goodness and it was glorious to gaze upon.

The final cocktail cookie had a texture that carried the heft of the glaze well and the combination felt just right. The full-force gin in the icing gave it a kick that everyone was surprised with but enjoyed…especially my coworkers. What? *Clears throat*

Moving on…the pick-me-up experiment is going down in the books as a success, and I’ve named them Jenn Gin Cookies. Gin and tonics are restricted to a glass no longer!

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Jenn Gin Cookie Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temp

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg (plus one egg white if you want to do what I did)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Gin

Gin Glaze:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons lime zest

1/3 cup fresh lime juice with a big splash of Gin in it

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and zest in a bowl. In another bowl (I used my KitchenAid), beat the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and lime juice, gin, and combine. Finally, add in the flour mixture gradually with the mixer on low.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until golden on the edges. About 15-20 minutes depending on your dough ball size. Be sure to flip them halfway through.

Let cool completely and then “drizzle” with the glaze. They should set for about an hour before devouring.

Bottom’s up!

 

C for Chemistry and a Cookie

Pretty sure I got a solid C in high school chemistry. I took it over the summer months and I’m confident the only reason I got that C was because my teacher was friends with my dad, who was a guidance counselor at my school. I remember spending most days getting out of class on the pretense that I was going to see my dad for some important reason or another, which for me was asking him for a snack from the vending machine or to snag me one of the donuts that were intended for faculty only.

So any chemistry I might have learned at one point, well, that didn’t happen. Side note: I also took every math class from 8th grade on twice. My spectacular performances in chemistry and math may be why I avoided baking for so long. I learned to cook through jobs in kitchens in college and I always enjoyed the freedom to experiment and create. But baking? Frankly, it scared me. It seemed too exacting and scientific.

I got over that fear. The need to be learning new things all the time overpowered the fear and I dove in a few years ago. Starting out mostly sticking to recipes, I recently began branching out on my own into the scary nether regions of recipe substitutions and adaptations.

Let’s get chemical! Chemical!     (I also like to substitute words in songs, creating ridiculousness.)

Moving on, cookie time. The other day at work we were informed about a office-wide meeting. I’m a hater of meetings. Not only do I not enjoy groups of people collected in a small space, I hate dumb questions. Those people that say there are no stupid questions are idiots. Call a pointless meeting and you’ll hear a stream of stupidity in the form of questions. They exist.

So I thought, if we’re going to have to sit through a meeting, might as well have something good…like a cookie. I went home and looked around at what I had on hand and found the rest of the white chocolate chips from a previous cookie endeavour. Decided I needed to get rid of those faux chocolately things and since I didn’t have any macadamia nuts, I kept looking for something to go with those little bastards.

Finding nothing that peeked my interest inside, I did what I often do when I need inspiration in the kitchen—I went out to the garden. Running my hands through the rosemary and basil bushes, pulling rose petals of he loves me/he loves me not, plucking chamber bitters from under the peppers, and crushing thyme in my palm. It wasn’t until my foster puppy ran through the lemon verbena, her paw stomping on a branch, releasing that sharp, clean, grassy-citrus scent, that I knew what would pair with the white chocolate.

I clipped a few pieces with both mature and baby leaves and headed back inside to try a new cookie–lemon verbena and white chocolate chip.

20160817_183432.jpgDeciding to use my usual cookie recipe as the base, I thought infusing the herb into the butter would work best. Instead of bringing the butter up to a fast browning, I put it on low and chopped about 12 leaves into it to warm for twenty to twenty five minutes. After that time, I then turned up the heat to medium high and browned the infused butter.

I tasted the butter before adding the rest of the ingredients and it wasn’t quite lemony enough for me. Lemon desserts are my favorite and I need more to balance with the sweetness of the chocolate, so I added about 6 raw, chopped leaves into the flour.

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Cut the sugar by a quarter from the regular recipe and only did one tablespoon of vanilla extract. I took the risk of messing up the chemistry of the cookie because I didn’t want the savory verbena to be overpowered. The dough ended up coming together despite my changes. Dropped large portions onto the baking sheet hoping the bigger size would even out the flavors and give me the texture I wanted.

After an excruciating twelve minutes, with a flip halfway through, I pulled the sheet from the oven and stared at them while they cooled. They were a beautiful blonde, slightly darker around the edges, the white chunks were highlighted by the visible bits of verbena and the smell was intoxicating. I was pleased with the appearance. Once I felt like I had waited long enough, I made my chamomile tea, grabbed one of those fancy pants cookies, and dove into the deliciousness.

Chemistry and math be damned, I did it.

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Lemon Verbena and White Chocolate Cookies (mine made 12 extra large cookies):

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg yolk

1 large egg

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

15-20 leaves fresh lemon verbena

Melt 10 tablespoons butter in pan on low along with about 12 chopped verbena leaves. Allow that to warm for about 20-25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 and get a cookie sheet ready with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, add baking soda and 6 raw, chopped verbena leaves. Set aside.

Bring the butter on the stove up to medium high heat and brown it. Once it has that nutty aroma, pour it into a bowl with the remaining 4 tablespoons butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Stir in the salt, vanilla extract, sugar, and eggs. Whisk for 30 seconds, let sit for 3 minutes. Repeat that two more times.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl and stir until just combined. Fold in the white chocolate chips.

Measure out dough into about 2 inch balls. I ended up with exactly 12. Bake on middle rack for 6 minutes, flip sheet around and bake another 6 minutes. Pull from oven and set the sheet on cooling racks. Allow to cool long enough to set…

then try not to eat all of them at once.

Painting, Pressuring, and Pulling: A Laborious Weekend

Whew. The weekend is over and I’m almost looking forward to going back to work to get a physical break. Instead of heading to the beach or mountains or just relaxing in town, I somehow thought it would be a great idea to take on multiple home projects all at once. Brilliant.

Last weekend I started painting the bedrooms in my house. I’ve had the same grey throughout all of the house for about four years now. The color was an attempt to neutralize and unify the house after a rough patch in life. It worked well, but lately I’ve been ready to reinvigorate my surroundings to bring on more creativity. It was time to put color back on the palette.

Painting, like pie making, is another activity on my therapeutic list. There’s just something about covering over a past decision with something vibrant and new, but knowing that old decision is still under there as a base for your present.

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For one of the rooms, I wanted a purple. I’ve always adored the different shades of this royal color found in vegetables and flowers, but finding one for the walls is a different story. Purples can be difficult. They tend to either end up looking like you splattered Grimace on your walls or they dull out to a hideous mauve, reminiscent of polyester suits and rose perfume–brutal. This purple is neither. It is a plum with just enough brown in it to not be child’s play, but not too much to be old lady. The effect is at the same time relaxing and refreshing.

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For the guest room, which is really more of my library, I wanted
blue. Again, blues can be tricky. There are so many moods of blues. I didn’t want the beach-theme blue nor the cornflower boringness found alongside rooms of burgundy and emerald greens. I wanted something with depth and, again, to rouse the creativity beast inside me. Found it and it’s a perfectly dark, bluish-green that creates a cozy nook, but also gives an expansive feeling like looking out at the Blue Ridge mountains at twilight.

I realized after moving artwork back into both rooms, that the color choices may have already been made for me. Everything is fitting back in naturally and with a renewed beauty.

Next up for the weekend was pressure washing the massive deck. Well, decks, but I only got to one this weekend. The front deck runs the length of my house and is half as wide. My house being quite small, this is the compensation. A big deck. Yep.

So anyway, my big ol’ deck had become a hazard–a veritable adult slip-n-slide. Or maybe more like unexpected ice skating. Either way, it had to be rectified. After hours of work, and even some enlisted help, it still wasn’t finished. As with most things I get involved in, there was a hitch. By the time the hitch was fixed, I was caput. The difference on what was accomplished is shocking though and it is actually safe to walk on now. Pro=tip:  don’t wait two years in Florida to pressure wash your decks.

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Before. During. After.

Then there was the garden. While my unpaid labor worked on the deck, I took on the yard. Cut the grass and then doused myself in bug spray and ventured into the vegetable garden that was overgrown with summer weeds, basil gone to seed, six-foot eggplant plants, and ‘Black & Blue’ salvia slowing marching ahead consuming everything in its path. I got out my tools–hand shovel, hand weeder, clippers–and proceeded to use none of them. Instead I used my glove free hands, as usual. I have to admit loving the feel of dirt under my nails. I will never have nice fingernails and I’m good with that.

11891182_10153520472232310_7267114819877121211_nScooting along in the dirt, I wrangled that garden back into shape and it’s now ready for fall seed planting next weekend. I will also be adding broccolis, cabbages, spinach, and herbs from starter plants in another few weeks. Violas, snapdragons, calendula, and nasturtiums will be included as edible flowers and to attract more pollinators.

Finally, the weekend of chores had come to a halt. I was sweat and dirt covered, stinking of bug spray, and ready to just sit back and look at all my hard work. Although a long weekend at the beach would have been glorious, even with an achy back and numb hands, I feel really good about the labors of accomplishing so much and seeing the results.

And now I’m going to wrap this Labor Day night up with a cup of chamomile, a fresh out of the oven cookie, a comfy chair, and the words of Jeanette Winterson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Out. Cookies In.

I went for a walk in a rain shower this afternoon. Ruby Joon drank from street puddles and I listened to the birds chirp their delights while preening and cleaning. August tends to be a tough month that seems to drag on and on,  and this one proved no different. The raindrops hit me like a hundred hummingbird tongues lapping at my skin, rinsing away the stresses and anxieties of the month. I kept walking, to Ruby’s dismay, until all of the month dripped away and I knew I could welcome in my favorite months of the year–the ones that end in ‘ber’.

And what better way to start the season than with baking something new for me? Chocolate chip cookies! A simple classic that I’d never attempted myself. I was motivated to finally go for it by reading about a contest through Cook’s Illustrated in which you try out one or all five of their essential recipes and you’re entered to win one year of web membership access–which I would love to have at my fingertips. I decided to try the cookies since I’m getting into baking and from-scratch chocolate chip would be new to me.

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I followed their recipe and was sure to read all the instructions thoroughly (or so I thought) and portion everything out before starting. Full disclosure, I somehow still managed to mess up the process and didn’t add the egg/egg yolk at the right time. Whoops! And I was sure, because science, I messed them up by doing that. But I pushed on and tried to finish strong.

 

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After I got the dough together, I then tried to measure it out per directions and was semi-successful with that endeavor. I ended up with one extra cookie on my baking sheet, but who’s going to complain about that? I chose that one as the test cookie. Another fun fact–I don’t have wire racks and I have two completely different styles of baking sheets. Wheeeeeeeee!

 

First batch was out. This set was the one baked on a well-used Calphalon baking sheet. They were in for 12 mins. and looked pretty spot on. I mean, they looked nothing like the picture on the recipe, but the edges were set and the centers were still soft, so I was optimistic.

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Since I don’t have wire racks, I just moved them to a fresh sheet of parchment paper to cool.

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Next up was the second batch done on an air-bake cookie sheet. I do not typically like to use this one for baking cookies and I wasn’t super pleased with the way these came out–still soft all around. I decided to leave them on the hot sheet an extra few minutes after 12 mins. in the oven to see if they’d set better before moving them to cool. Seemed to work.

I put the kettle on for tea to have with my test cookie(s) and went over the experience in my head again. Clearly, I do not follow instructions well and I skim information when I’m in an impatient mood. This is why I have always had trouble with the idea of baking. It’s so exact. It’s so sciencey. And I can screw it up so easily.

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The mug sums up my first attempt at cookies from scratch, but I will say they were both quite tasty and the chamomile tea calmed my frustrations. Turns out, the ones done on the air-bake sheet were actually better. Mental note made. Overall, it was a good way to start out my favorite time of year and I will try again someday…now that I know the actual process. And yes, work friends, I will be bringing them in tomorrow to share, so calm your antsy stomachs and wipe that drool off your fool faces.