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.

Bye, Guy! and a Pie

A friend wanted a pie. Isn’t that how all pie stories begin?

The plot of this one is simple–last day of work for a coworker and he wanted a peach pie. It’s the sequence of events that get a bit blurry in my medi-fuzzed mind. Since I can’t seem to write down recipes as I go, and I have some preternatural aversion to measuring, the particulars of this one may be a bit sketchy. In spite of all that, here we go.

Bourbon Peach Pie with a Bacon Lattice Maple Syrup-Drizzled Topping

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When I think of peach pie, I tend to think of bourbon. When I think of bourbon, I think of bacon. Now, we’re not going to get into an argument about whether Jack Daniel’s is a whiskey or a bourbon or a bourbon whiskey. For my purposes, it mixes with the flavors of peaches, bacon, and honey just riiight.

20160809_192636.jpgWith ingredients like that, the only way to screw up is to use a store-bought pie dough. Just say no, people. Making your own is pretty damn simple. It may take six or three times to master it, but it’s worth it every single time. So get to learning if you don’t know how already.

Yep. There’s mine in all its near perfection glory. And yes, I’m bragging, but in all seriousness, there’s something about melding together the basics of flour, butter, salt, and water with your hands until it becomes not just the carrier of all the other flavors, but often becomes the star of the show.

*I have to admit that somehow my crust shrunk a little too much during the par bake this time around. Gah! and shhhhh.

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While the par-baked pie crust cooled, it was time to skin, slice, and season the peaches. I ended up using a mix of regular and white peaches because I wanted ripe ones. After a lot of feeling up of a lot of peaches, I found five firm, juicy big ‘uns. Tossed with the JD, lemon juice, honey, brown sugar, nutmeg, salt and flour, they were ready to set aside while soaking up all those flavors.

For the bacon lattice top, I chose a thick cut, lower sodium bacon. Personally, I have to
watch my sodium intake for health reasons, but the more I’ve learned about it through 20160809_195530.jpgnecessity to keep myself healthy, I’ve realized most people need to cut back. PSA aside, when it’s floating on a delicious peach mixture and drizzled with maple syrup, nobody is going to notice if it has a little less sodium. I cooked the bacon on the stove-top just long enough so it wasn’t completely done, but not totally flimsy either. Browned, but not crunchy. Mmmmm, bacon.

Once the peach filling was poured into the homemade pie crust and the latticed top drizzled with maple syrup, it was time to pop that sweet lovin’ baby in the oven and sit back with glass of JD. The perfume of the mapled meat and honeyed peaches mingled with the warmth of the liquor sliding along, soothing away the tough moments of the week, month, year, so far. Pie baking is my therapy.

And then it was done. And then it was brought to the party. And then it was gone.

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Pie Dough:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 stick of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup ice water

Sift the flour, toss in the salt, and work the butter in until the butter pieces are about the size of a walnut. Make a well in the center and slowly pour in the ice water a tablespoon at a time kneading it until the dough just comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in fridge for at least thirty minutes before rolling out. Put back in the fridge after setting in pie plate before par-baking it.

 

Peach Filling:

2-3 pounds peaches (about 5-6 large)

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup sugar (I used dark brown)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons bourbon or whiskey (I used 4 tablespoons. heh)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of salt

5-6 tablespoons of flour

 

Bacon Topping:

8-10 slices of bacon (I used thick cut, lower sodium)

Maple syrup, enough to drizzle all over

 

425 degree oven for 15 minutes and then drop the temp to 375 for 25-30 minutes.

I had to cover it with aluminum for a few so the bacon didn’t overcook. Just keep an eye on it and let it go to your liking.

 

Tomadough Tart. Or something.

First, you grow some scrumptious heirloom tomatoes. Then you pick ’em ripe. After that, you put them in doubled-up dough with dijon, herbs and cheese, bake, and then cram it in yer piehole and make contented animal noises. Hello, summer.

It looks a little sumthin like this:

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Jenn’s Tomadough Tart Recipe

Tart dough (I doubled this because I like a thick dough):

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1 rounded cup of flour

Put the butter, water, oil, and sugar in an oven-safe bowl and bake on 410 for 15 mins. until butter starts to brown on edges. Pull from oven, pour in flour, mix and put into tart pan to cool for a few before forming around pan.

I then cooked the dough at 375 for 15 mins. and let it cool completely before adding the filling.

Tart Filling:

As many tomatoes as will fill your tart. I know this is vague, but I used four different sizes of tomatoes for mine. I did three layers and that took one large, four medium, two small, and then six cherries. Do what feels right for you.

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**Be sure to put your sliced tomatoes out on a towel and salt them to pull the water out of them. You can do this while the dough is cooling. 

 

6 ounces of good goat cheese (you could use mozzarella if you prefer)

Pecorino romano, freshly grated

Fresh chopped herbs (I used scallions, thyme, and basil from my garden, but feel free to use whatever spices you like. Tomatoes go with most any of them.)

Dijon, enough to coat the bottom of the tart

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Coat the bottom of the cooked/cooled tart dough with dijon–a layer as thick as you would put on a sandwich. Then add your first layer of tomatoes. Tops with some of the herbs and a sparse sprinkling of grated pecorino romano cheese. Next layer of tomatoes and repeat with the herbs and cheese. Add the final layer of tomatoes, top with the goat cheese and any herbs you may have left. Pour the olive oil all over the top of the tart.

Bake at 425 for 30 mins. on the middle rack. Watch it so the cheese on top doesn’t brown too much.

Take it out and allow to cool for the flavors to meld and so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut into it.

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Blueberry Pickin’ and a Pie

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It’s the height of blueberry season here in north Florida and I couldn’t turn down an invite to go to a local u-pick farm on Saturday morning. We set out early, beating the crowds and heat, and were able to meander through the rows of plants in a cool breeze and quiet. By 10 o’clock, the pony rides, stilt clowns making balloon animals, and food trucks were in full swing.

I’d heard about Jubilee Orchards, the Lawton Chiles family farm, but this was the first time seeing it. Following tree-lined, winding roads, the drive itself is not far at all, but I felt like I was in a completely different world when we arrived. I do always experience an instant full breath of relaxation and happiness on farms though.

20160522_145328.jpgThe blueberry picking area was much larger than I thought it would be, with 50 acres of bushes sporting seven different cultivars. They are also currently transitioning 15 acres into a certified organic area. We both agreed that we were up for walking to the outskirts since we figured other people wouldn’t want to walk that far. That was a good decision. We were rewarded with berry-filled bushes20160521_095605.jpg all to ourselves.

One variety called “Farthing” had huge ones. Heh. Even in my big ol’ hands, the berry looked large. CHOMP. They were also deliciously sweet. I filled a good quarter of my bucket with just those. I knew I wanted a good assortment though, not only for fresh snacking, but for pies. Sampling a berry from each plant is pretty much a requirement. Not only from variety to variety, but from plant to plant, the tastes were 20160521_103656.jpgdifferent. Near the end of one section, we found some rows that the name had washed off the sign, so there’s no telling what kind they were, but the berries were all right at the tips of the branches. They looked like sticks of blue candy buttons up there. The fruits were smaller and had a slight kick of sour to them, making them a good pairing with the larger, sweeter “Farthing.”

I filled up with those and two other varieties before calling it a done deal. It was time to pay up and head out before the screeching delight of the childrens overpowered the tranquility of the farm. Heading home, I knew it was time to make the first blueberry pie of the season and I knew where I would get a recipe.

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Four pounds of blueberries later, I was home flipping through the pages of one of the three pie-related books I received as a birthday gift this year–Pie School by Kate Lebo. This is my new favorite cookbook. Actually, it’s the only cookbook I’ve read through. I mean, I really read it. Usually, I find myself skimming through cookbooks looking at the recipes and pictures, but not with this one. She is not only an engaging writer, but she writes about the exact thoughts I have had on baking and tools and the creativity of it all. She is my new spirit animal. But human. Spirit human. Or something.20160522_130655.jpg

Moving on…I was having trouble deciding between two recipes, but decided that since I wanted to make a pie specifically to work on my crust, I would do the Maple Blueberry Pie and maybe do the Blueberry Lemon Verbena Galette another day. I started with gathering the needed ingredients and measuring out how many berries I would need by pouring them right into the pie plate I was going to use. Using my usual pie dough recipe, I threw in a heaping pinch of sugar on recommendation of the book. I just love the look of those chunks of butter in the dough when it’s rolled out. Mmmmm, buttah.

20160522_130517.jpgWhile the dough set in the plate in the fridge, I mixed up the berries with the lemon juice, good quality maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, butter, and flour. In typical fashion, I couldn’t follow the recipe strictly, so I also added a bit of powdered ginger. Poured the mixture into the bottom crust and fitted the top crust, sealing the edges with a fork and cutting proper air vents. Coated the top with an egg-white wash and demerara sugar crystals. So pretty.

Popped that baby blue onto the middle rack of the oven for twenty minutes at 425, then dropped the temp to 375 for another thirty-five minutes. I ended up having to cover the edges with aluminum foil so they didn’t burn, which was quite the ordeal. It had already been in the oven for the first twenty minutes when I realized I needed to do this. Instead of just taking the pie out of the oven to affix the foil, I stupidly thought I could do it quickly while it was still on the rack. Many hot, angry minutes later, I was sweating and filled with rage. I immediately went and ordered myself a pie ring20160522_204358.jpg

The battle with foil paid off with beautiful edges in the end. The fresh-picked berries made
a huge difference for texture and taste. They were perfectly cooked and the spices and syrup balanced each bite deliciously. After cooling for a few hours, the slices even held together pretty well. I was expecting it to be much messier when cut. Paired with a spoonful or two of classic vanilla ice cream, this pie was definitely a win. I will be making this one again before the blueberry season is over.

Simply yumtastic!

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Pie Dough (makes both top and bottom crusts)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 sticks chilled, unsalted butter, cut into half-inch pieces

1/2 cup ice water

Two pinches of salt

1 teaspoon sugar

Whisk the flour with the salt and sugar. Work in the butter until the pieces are about the size of walnuts. Slowly add in the ice water until the dough comes together. You may not need all of the water or you may need a little more. Go slowly. Separate in two, wrap in plastic, and put in the fridge for thirty minutes or so before rolling out.

 

Pie Filling

2 pounds blueberries, about 5 cups (I just pour the fruit into the pie plate to determine)

1/2 cup high-quality maple syrup–don’t skimp on this

Juice from 1/2 of a medium lemon (I used a Meyer Lemon because personal preference)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger (my addition)

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter cut into small chunks

5 tablespoons flour

 

Pie Topping

Egg wash, 1 egg white beaten with a splash of water

Demerara sugar

Meatless Monday & Friends with Benefits

Tonight, I made a simple meatless meal–an open-faced egg sandwich. Yes, it was absolutely delicious, but the best part about it was that almost all of it was created with handmade products from friends. I’ve scored big time with homegrown/made gifts in the last couple of weeks. The season of giving apparently started early and I took full advantage of those benefits tonight.

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The bread is what my friends and I like call “tail bread” because one time an otherwise rustic-round loaf my friend made had a small, protruding piece that looked like a tail. I don’t know how she does it, but this bread is always spot-on with the flavor, crust, and crumb. I like to toast it on my cast iron griddle with a butter and olive oil combo.

Once the slices were toasted, I topped them with thin layer of Duke’s Mayo and then the most scrumptious zucchini relish ever. This relish and the dill pickle spear were made by another friend who grew the zucchini and cucumbers. Whenever I get my hands on a jar of this relish, I eat it every single day until it is gone. It pairs perfectly with the bread and over easy eggs, which I put on top with a handful of sliced, cherry tomatoes from my fall garden, a sprinkling of pecorino cheese, and then another friend-crafted delight–pickled jalapeños. The heat from the peppers she grew herself is balanced by a tiny hint of sweet from a dash of sugar in the pickling recipe. Absolutely delectable.

Again, this was a very simple meatless meal, but the fact that my friends shared their hard work and talent with me made it so much tastier than any ol’ regular egg sandwich. I have some seriously talented friends and I’m lucky to have them in my life. Not only do I enjoy the fruits of their labors–from breads and honey to vanilla extract and candles–but I also like to learn from them and share what I am able. My lovely friends with benefits.

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Although this was a meatless meal, it was enjoyed with the scent of bacon in the air. Another crafty friend sent me an all natural, soy-based Bacon-scented candle! It smells heavenly.

Today may be Meatless Monday, but I’m already thinking about my next baking adventure. I’m thinking it’s going to be a meat pie. MEAT PIE, Y’ALL.