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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Soil-sense Intervention

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Meager morning harvest. Was this really it? I was already on the path of knowing I needed to improve my soil, but this was a total eye-opener. Even these few offerings from the veggie garden aren’t as healthy looking as they should be. I realized recently that I’ve been gardening the same backyard for ten years now and somewhere along the way I forgot that soil upkeep doesn’t happen with an application of leaf mulch twice a year.

I’ve always known that the soil is where it matters most in the garden. Regardless of the quality of plant or seed or the amount of sun and rain, if you don’t stay on top of building and maintaining the health of the soil, you’re losing.

At some point, I got lazy. That’s the truth of it. I could give the typical excuse of “life” getting in the way and all that bull, but really it was pure laziness. And then last week a book that has been on my shelf for two years finally caught my attention—The Third Plate by Dan Barber.

Just 100 pages in and there have already been so many poignant quotes that have made me say, “DUH, Jenn. DUH.” Gah.

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It’s embarrassing, really, to acknowledge here that at some point I lost all sense when it came to the soil of my gardens. After that pitiful morning harvest, I started thinking back to just a few years ago when I would go out on a similar morning and come back with my big ol’ antique colander and shirt full of tomatoes, peppers of all sorts and sizes, piles of herbs, eggplants with depths of purples so beautiful it became my favorite color. I would make sauces and salsas, cook and freeze, share with friends, coworkers, and family, and still have more.

It wasn’t just the abundance either. You could taste the difference in each variety of tomato, pepper, and eggplant. There were flavor and textural variations, as intended. I think I first noticed two years ago a drop off of not only production but quality. Did I do anything? Put out six inches of leaf mulch twice a year and hoped for the best. Stupid.

Today, I started the fix. With a weather forecasting rain for the next few days, I figured it was a good time to get some nutrients into that soil. By the way, this is what the skies looked like even with a 90% chance of rain for the day…

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But anywaaay, I know weather prediction will never be perfect or spot on, so I got out there to work. First thing, I put out a big bag of mushroom compost. Pulled what was left of the leaf mulch and some of the scrappy, dry dirt away from around the trunks of my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs, and filled in with a hearty moat of the compost. I know it’s not ideal to apply the compost in this way, but the hope is that the rain will work it in and the worms I know are still down there will come up to pull it down.

After doing this around all of them and going through the mushroom compost and a bag of cow manure I forgot I had, I put down a fresh layer of leaf mulch and watered it all in. This is my idea of a patch in hopes of salvaging some flavors and production. I also started more long term repairs.

Finally got a compost bucket going again. I used to always have one and it was easy and obviously rewarding. Again, laziness took over. No more. I set up the bucket right down off the back deck, which is right where the kitchen is, so all kitchen scraps will now go into the compost pot. Luckily, I found a 30 gallon black plastic pot under the front deck that still had some previous composting attempt in it. Already rich with worms, I added some leaves and grass clippings and will start to add those veggie bits. Getting back on the right path seems doable now.

I know that there are the fancy-schmancy compost bins you can buy, but an elevated bucket that drains has always worked for me. It’s big enough to make good compost, but not so big that I won’t want to work it correctly.

My other longer term plan is to plant clover or beans or some other nitrogen-fixing cover crop. That will make a big impact for the next growing cycle. I am also doing more research into crop rotations that will improve the soil in a specific area for the planting following it.

I’ve had a soil-sense awakening because of a book. It’s overdue, but I’m relieved that it happened. My gardening practices needed an intervention, and as I get back on track to improving my garden soil, I’ve found a renewed interest in learning as much as I can about soil and the microbial life that is right below our feet. It truly fascinates me. For some people, it’s the galaxies above. For me, it’s the intricate universes below.

 

 

 

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!

 

Pi(e) Day: the most wonderful day of the month.

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Today was an obvious choice of a day for me to make a pie. I don’t math, but I do know what pi means and since I’m pretty all right with letters, I knew that adding an ‘e’ would really level up this day. *insert Link opening a treasure chest music here* Also, I can’t remember the last time I made one, which is true sadness.

When discussing what kind to make, Yvonne, who knows I always bring them into work for taste testing, said any kind but blueberry because that would turn her teeth blue. So to me that meant it was definitely going to be blueberry. Luckily for her, blueberries weren’t quite in season yet, so they were still ridiculously priced. The strawberries and raspberries were on sale and to add in a color and texture variant, I threw a pack of blackberries into the cart. A lemon for fresh juice and I was ready.20170314_192753.jpg

Shockingly, I actually planned ahead for this day and made my dough the night before. I’ve seriously mastered that pie dough, yo. As seasoned bakers already know, the quality of butter makes ALL the difference in it coming together. When I got home from the store, I rolled out half of the dough and pressed it into the plate.

The dough went back into the fridge while I prepped the filling. Sweet, sweet berries, come to momma. I cut the strawberries into 20170314_193128.jpgdifferent sizes and left the blackberries and raspberries whole. A bowl of beauty. The recipe I loosely followed called for adding granulated sugar, lemon juice, and salt to the berries. I cut the sugar by about a quater cup and added in an overflowing tablespoon of good quality maple syrup. Once that was mixed, add in the thickener, flour, and then it was time to get the other half of the 20170314_192702.jpgdough out of the fridge to roll out for the top crust. I knew I wanted to do something to represent pi, so I stared at the rolled out dough and contemplated how to do it without just doing the pi symbol. The problem is that I’m still an amateur with creative pie lattice tops. The brainstorming resulted in an idea I thought I could handle, so I filled the plate with the berry delicious filling and got at it. After some serious finangling, I finished my top and popped that heavy baby into the oven.

About an hour later, my gooftastic Pi Day pie was done. As usual, it was juicier than I’d like it to be. I think this happens because I usually add more fruit than the recipes call for, I can’t abide a sunken belly, and then forget to compensate with more thickening agent.

Do you see my pi representation?

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The taste testers were pleased—the pi pie disappeared with a quickness. I did get a slice and I have to admit that regardless of the slightly pooling liquid, the taste was spot on. Not too sweet or too tart. I’ll mark it as a success and make yet another note to watch the thickener when making fruit pies.

I didn’t get a “pretty” picture of a cut piece, but here’s a jank one with sliding crust on a Target brand generic paper plate because we can’t care about everything…

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Pie Dough:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar (I used slightly less)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-1 tablespoon pieces (I used Kerry Gold)

1 1/2 cups cold water

Put the cold water into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup with a spout and handle. Set into the freezer. Measure out the flour into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and salt, then the butter pieces. Lightly toss them until they are coated and then take handfuls of the mixture into your hands, pressing the butter into the flour between your fingers until it’s incorporated and the butter pieces are pea to walnut size.

Next, get the water from the freezer and drizzle it in for a count of about five seconds. Then toss it like you’re tossing a salad. Don’t knead. Keep doing that with the water until you can put together a small ball of dough, toss it in the air, and when it lands in your hand it stays together. At this point, make two thick discs of dough, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to three days.

Pie Filling:

5-5 1/2 cups of mixed berries of your choice

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 heaping tablespoon maple syrup

2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

1/4 cup flour (or more if you add extra fruit)

2 tablespoon chilled, unsalted butter cut into small chunks

1 egg white for wash

Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix the berries, sugar, syrup, lemon juice, and salt together. Taste and adjust to your preference. Stir in the flour and set aside while you roll out the top crust. Pile the fruit mix into the dough, dot with butter, and then add your version of the top. Brush on the egg white wash and heavily sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Middle rack for 15-20 minutes, with an edge protector. Then turn oven down to 375, rotate pie, and bake for another 35-45 minutes. Take the pie edge protector off for the last 10-15 minutes.

Cool on wire rack for at least an hour and then devour.

 

 

Plate of Greens–Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I realized today that it’s been a while since I ventured away from my easy dinners list. Sometimes, between seasons in the veggie garden, I fall prey to eating the same foods week after week while waiting for the garden to produce the new bounty. With a recent cold snap here, I cut a bunch of poblanos so I wouldn’t risk losing them to a possible freeze. Luckily, my yard is pretty protected, so there weren’t any freezing temps here, but I now had an abundance of peppers to use before they went bad. I gave quite a few to neighbors and family, which is one of the main reasons I grow food—not only to feed myself, but also those around me.

The poblanos have done very well since fall hit. Large and firm with a deep green, shiny coat, I knew they would hold up to a good stuffing. Stuffed peppers are a pretty easy dinner and can be easily customized to a variety of dietary preferences. Poblanos add a mini-kick and a depth of flavor that other peppers just don’t come close to. Since I had one last chicken thigh to use up, I figured a classic chicken and rice combo would be good to stuff ’em up. I also got excited to see bok choy in the grocery this weekend, so I thought I better use that before it got all wilty. My bok choy seedlings are doing well, but far from harvest time.

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So here we go with my version of a use what ya got stuffed pepper. While the rice was cooking in the cooker with coconut oil, turmeric, black pepper, and cumin, I got to chopping the veggies. Sliced yellow onion went into a saute pan with the chicken, apple cider vinegar (my way to keep meat from drying out), the juice of one limequat, olive oil, cumin and oregano. Since it was a boneless, skinless thigh, I knew it would cook quick enough so that the onion wouldn’t turn to complete mush.

img_20161212_183502.jpgThe poblanos went on the cast iron griddle with olive oil to blister. Yum. It was hard not to just eat them straight off the griddle.

Meanwhile, in a lidded pot, I steamed the rough chopped bok choy with water, butter, and a little garlic powder. Once the chicken started to brown, I threw a whole chopped shallot and two crushed garlic cloves into the pan. When the delicious scent of garlic started filling the air, I added a bit of water to pull the browned bits off the bottom of the pan and a couple scoops of the cooked rice and let all those flavors simmer together.

All of the spices and oils were melding into a hanging-open mouth moment of kitchen zen in my kitchen. It was time to stuff. My original plan was to include the bok choy in the mix for some crunch, but they had browned so beautifully, I decided to leave them on their own as a side. So I left those in the pot, pulled off the heat, while I cut the peppers and removed the seed pod. These poblanos had a massive amount of seeds, so had to remove most of them to have room for the filling. I stuffed the three peppers to overflowing and piled on the fresh grated pecorino romano, popped those babies under the broiler, and poured a glass of red wine. Since everything was pre-cooked and still hot, I just needed to get that cheese melty. Oh, yes. So melty.

I’m calling this dinner the Plate of Greens. And how about my timing with Pantone announcing the color of the year for 2017 as a vibrant shade called “Greenery”? Yep. I’m just that good. Not on purpose, mind you. Purely accidentally that good.

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Plate of Greens:

3 medium poblano peppers

1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh (you can substitute a non-meat option here easily)

1/4 medium yellow onion, sliced

1 large shallot, chopped

2 garlic cloves crushed

1 small head of bok choy

Pecorino Romano (or any cheese you like), fresh grated, enough to coat

1 cup Jasmine white rice

1 heaping tablespoon coconut oil (for rice)

Olive oil (use whatever you’re comfortable with for sauteing)

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter (for the bok choy)

Spices I used:  turmeric, black pepper, and cumin in the rice. Oregano and cumin in the chicken mixture. Garlic powder for the bok choy.