Category Archives: Cooking for 1 or 2

National Cookie Month

I sometimes imagine that I have the power to make big things happen. It routinely gets me into trouble. At home. At work. But in my little corner of the world, and if I had the power, I would make January National Cookie Month. It might seem odd that I would chose January. After all, December is most likely the month that most cookies are baked. Holiday cookies. Take a look around and see all the magazines that are produced for December distribution. Cooking Shows and Cookie Exchanges, all in December.

December is way too busy a month for me to bake all the cookies that I desire. Many times, I do bake dozens! In some memorable years, I’ve been know to bake hundreds of dozens. The problem is, of course, that I don’t have time to eat them. They are usually given away or devoured by others anyway. January is my time to bake and eat cookies.

This January, I have a new favorite cookie to share. It’s been on my mind since I found the recipe in a special publication called Food Gifts. Sorry to tell you that you probably won’t be able to find the magazine any longer on the book shelves. It’s display date ended on December 10th. But, I am sharing the delicious recipe (well, my rendition) with you, and will keep you alerted to other inspirations of the print variety.

The name of the recipe ‘Toffee-Pecan Chippers in a Jar’ drew me in right away. The picture of the layered cookie mix was cutely staged. I built the jarred cookie mix in a class in early December, but didn’t actually mix the cookies up until Christmas Eve, when my schedule for dessert baking was evaporating and I was getting desperate. Since Christmas Eve, I’ve baked these cookies three times. They are that good.

You might be able to imagine that I didn’t make the recipe exactly as prescribed. The changes I made relate to my desire to put coconut oil in lots of different baked goods (see my post on My Morning Muffin). Coconut oil gives wonderful texture to muffins, cookies and even cakes. I generally substitue about 1/2 of the butter or oil in a recipe for coconut oil. I no longer use Crisco shortning in pie crusts, substituting half butter and half coconut oil. The results are delectable.

Toffee-Pecan Chippers

2 Tbls butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup Heath Bar crumbles
1/3 cup coconut
1/3 cup chopped nuts or sunflower seeds

Directions:

Cream together the fats and sugars.  Add the egg and vanilla and mix until smooth.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir in with a wooden spoon.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Scoop the cookies into mounds onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Use your fingers to press the mounds into flattened discs. (This helps the cookies bake more uniformly.)

Bake for 5 minutes, then spin the cookie sheets around (left to right).  Bake for another 3-5 minutes.  Baking time relates to the individual oven, so be prepared to watch the cookies closely.  You’ll see the cookies puff and dry slightly on top and become golden brown on the edges next to the pan.

Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool completely on the pan.  This gives the cookie a chance to continue to crisp up on the outside, yet stay chewy on the inside.  That, my friend, is a description of the perfect cookie!

If you’re baking all the cookies at once, you’ll most likely need two baking sheets.  I like to give my cookies aboout 2″ between each one so that they bake evenly and crisp up nicely.

Enjoy!

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Summer Sings with Tomatoes

It might seem redundant, but another post about Tomatoes seems altogether fair to me.  Tomatoes from the farmer’s market have come in by the box full.  My favorite dish was the fresh tomato marinara that I made for my son’s 18th birthday.  I am not sure which of these two salads that I made recently was best; both are worth trying.

For a business meeting at my home, I prepared a BLT salad. Complete with colorful greens, heirloom tomatoes and a simple dressing, it was sort of a play on the sandwich of the same name, but made much ‘dressier’ presentation.

BLT salad

Another rendition of the classic ‘Caprese’ salad was included in my dinner with friends last night.  A base of fresh, baby arugula topped with a collection of my neighbor’s tomatoes and some from my yard too.  The bright yellow and green tomato taking center stage is the ‘Green Zebra’ plucked right from the vine yesterday afternoon.  ‘Juliet’, ‘Sungold’ and a handful of tiny red grape tomatoes rounded out the mix.  Normally, I would serve a balsamic vinaigrette (Cook With Mary brand of course), but last night, I opted for the ultra simple 18 year old balsamic vinegar and a bottle of walnut oil that I received recently as a gift.  Wow!  What a flavor combination.  I topped the salad with some fresh Feta cheese rather than the usual fresh mozzarella.  It is amazing to me how such a simple salad can have such a wide range of tastes just by changing up the  cheese and dressing choices.

Caprese Salad

Let me know what your favorite version of a classic summer tomato dish might be.

BLT Salad Dressing

  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbls vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped fresh herbs: chives, parsley, tarragon – to taste

Mix all ingredients together and serve with a platter full of lettuce leaves, sliced fresh tomatoes and crisp bacon.  Bread is optional!

Enjoy!

Chicken salad with apples and bleu cheese

I am home after cheffing a dinner party for 27 delightful people.  We roasted up some chicken breasts with rosemary, salt, pepper and a dribble of butter.  A salad of field greens preceded the chicken and  had apples, bleu cheese and my balsamic vinaigrette.  I brought home the leftovers because the host and hostess were planning on leaving town for a week.  So, once in the door I prepared a healthy salad for myself with one of the chicken breasts, some apple and pepper slices, and bleu cheese.  Instead of the balsamic, I opted for my Creamy Herb Dressing.

Eating the salad, I realized that this combination of flavors would be wonderful as a new-fangled chicken salad.  Served on a bed of lettuces, stuffed into a pita round, or piled on top of a crusty roll – a winner!  So here is a quick salad based on leftovers from a number of my previous posts.  Roasted rosemary chicken worked really well here, but some grilled chicken, poached or even a grocery store rotisserie chicken would fill in nicely.

It’s great to have some fresh salad ingredients on hand, already prepped and ready to go.  A batch of dressing waiting to be used and a desire to not dirty up one more pan or bowl.  Great practice for summer weather.

Chicken Salad with apples and bleu cheese

  • 4 chicken breast halves, chilled and chopped
  • 1 cup minced red, yellow and orange peppers
  • 1 whole apple, cored and chopped  (a crisp, sweet and tart apple like Pink Lady is great)
  • 1/4 cup toasted almonds or walnuts
  • 2 Tbls minced red onion
  • 1/4 cup or so Creamy Herb Dressing
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Lettuce leaves, toasted bread or pita as desired

Mix the salad ingredients together and serve with lettuce or bread, as desired.

Enjoy!

Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Olive Tapenade

I am working on my Italian pronunciation.  So far, it’s pretty pitiful.  Bruschetta rolls down my gullet alot easier than it rolls off my tongue.  I hear the word spoken correctly, but I can not consistently say it properly.  Brew-shetta comes out.  Brew-sketta is correct.  Thank goodness I can cook it better than I can pronounce it. 

Late last Saturday afternoon, I had the house to myself.  Music – eclectic and at a moderate volume.  Friends – in cue for dinner.  Husband and son – on their way back from Lexington.  Alone with Brie (she doesn’t cause any problems), I was prepping dinner, planning and sipping.  Oh, yeah.  Did I mention I was alone?

A partial loaf of Blue Dog baguette – sliced thin.  Olive tapenade – at the ready. Capriole Farms Chevre and Basil Pesto – check and double check.  I pulled my list of ingredients out onto the counter and began assembling a simple appetizer.  Enough for 5 people, a hearty beginning to a meal with friends.  So much for planning.

The friends begged off.  The husband wasn’t hungry enough for dinner.  The son – PLEASE – dinner with the old folks on Saturday?  I didn’t think so.  Instead of the dinner I had planned, Tony and I finished off the bottle of wine and had just the appetizer in front of the fire.   Very satisfying, simple and made with local bread and cheese, and homemade pesto oil and tapenade.

Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Olive Tapenade

  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 loaf  baguette, thinly sliced
  • 2-4 oz fresh goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive tapenade
  • 1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 Tbls basil pesto
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • finely shredded parmesan or romano cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 400. 

Pour about 1 Tbls of olive oil onto a half sheet pan.  Smear it around the pan until you have a thin, even layer.  Place the sliced baguette on the pan, pressing the slices into the oil, then turn the slices over.  Smear a bit of the goat cheese onto each slice of bread.  Top with a teaspoon or so of the tapenade.   Sprinkle with the diced tomatoes and add the shredded parmesan, if using.  Grind some black pepper over the bruschetta. 

Thin the pesto with two tablespoons of olive oil and drizzle over the bruschetta.  Bake in the preheated oven for 5-8 minutes, or until the toasts are hot and beginning to brown at the edges. 

Serves 4 – 6.

Enjoy!

Marinara Sauce – perfection from the pantry

I promised a marinara sauce recipe.  This one is so simple, so delicious and so inexpensive to make, you’ll be wondering why you have been buying the jarred stuff.  In the time the water for your pasta comes to a boil, and the pasta is cooked, you can have this simple recipe made and ready.

Versatile, oh my gosh!  Pizza, pasta, eggplant or chicken parmesan, dipping sauce for bread.  I even used a bit of it to poach a piece of fish the other day.  You can double it, triple, quadruple it (you get the idea).  When fresh herbs are outside my back door, I pluck them and minced them for the ultimate in fresh taste.  This time of year, I resort to a spoonful of pesto to quickly season the sauce in a convenient way.  You really must make this sauce.

Marinara Sauce                                                                                                             (Basic Pasta Sauce)

  • 2-3 Tbls olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, more if you like it spicy
  • generous amount freshly grated black pepper
  • 2-4 fresh garlic cloves, smashed and minced
  • 1 – 28oz can whole tomatoes packed in juice
  • fresh herbs, pinch sugar, salt as needed for seasoning

Begin by heating the olive oil, red and black pepper and garlic over medium heat until hot, but don’t let the garlic brown.  Add the tomatoes and begin to smash them up with either a potato masher or wooden spoon.  Bring the sauce to a high simmer.  The idea here is to allow the sauce to evaporate and condense to a thickness where you can draw the spoon across the bottom of the pan and the sauce stays separated.  (I call this the parting of the Red Sea.)  This simmering process will take about 20 minutes in a wide pan, much longer in a smaller sauce pan.  Many times, I’ll use my high sided saute pan to allow the quickest evaporation of the sauce.

Once the sauce is thickened, you can taste it for seasoning.  Add herbs to your liking; I prefer a mixture of fresh basil, Italian parsley and a bit of tarragon.  You might prefer to use oregano or maybe just basil.  I can’t tell you how much herbage you’ll need, just  begin with a few tablespoons of mixed fresh herbs and taste until you’re satisfied.  If using dried herbs, use only 1/3 as much as fresh.

You’ll most likely need a pinch of sugar and some salt.  What you’re tasting for is balance.  Your sauce shouldn’t taste sweet, salty, acidic or like basil, but a blend of all the spices and herbs in harmony. 

Enjoy!

Flour Power

Last Sunday, I had the idea that I would make a big pot of Minestrone and share some with a friend who was a bit under the weather.  Of course, that would be dinner for us too; I had too much to do to plan two things.  In discussing the dinner option, Tony wondered if our favorite bakery might have any Asiago bread.  I called, they didn’t.  Tony’s idea was to pair up some paninis made with Breadworks fantastic Asiago bread, but alas, it is baked only on Saturday and Tuesday and we didn’t plan ahead.

Not to be deterred, I decided to make bread myself.  I got to work and began the biga for my stand-by Ciabatta recipe.  I schemed all day about how I might finish the loaves, knowing that I had some Parmesan, Asiago and Romano in the fridge.  The biga needs a long head start, but once it’s ready, the bread comes together fairly quickly.  I placed the biga in a crockery bowl in the warmest room in the house – near the woodstove.

Once the biga was ready – about 6 hours later, I added the remaining flour, yeast, water and salt and kneaded the dough until it was a beautiful, smooth round.  Resting and rising again for about an hour, the plump, sensual dough was ready for experimentation. 

I brought out my collection of cheese shards, threw the rind of the Parmigiano Reggiano into the Minestrone and diced up the remainder into 1/4″ pieces.  I took about 2/3 cup of the dice and kneaded it into the finished dough and placed the oval loaf in a standard bread loaf pan.  So the rising of the dough would be unrestricted, I placed the pan under a huge Tupperware bowl on the counter.  I wouldn’t have to worry about pulling off the plastic wrap and inadvertantly ‘de-gassing’ the loaf right before baking.

Kneading in the cheese pieces

Another trick that I employed was to preheat the oven with a large, oval roasting pan inside to 450 degrees.  I was going to use this roaster as an oven inside my oven to trap the steam emitted from the loaf as it bakes.  This idea isn’t original, of course, but is taken from the revolutionary work done at the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York.  If you don’t know about that, read here.

So, after about an hour of the second rising, I popped the loaf pan into the preheated roaster, closed it up and set the timer for 30 minutes.  When the timer alarmed, I removed the lid of the roaster and continued to bake for another 25 minutes.  The loaf was cracked and brown dotted with carmelized cheese pieces.  We set the loaf outside (because it was about 10 degrees out there) and let it cool down a bit before we sliced it and grilled it for paninis.

The crust on this bread was brittle and crunchy, the interior soft and riddled with slightly irregular pockets of air and cheese.  Since the cheese pieces were small and relatively dry, I didn’t quite know what to expect.  The cheese melted into the loaf and gave a subtle taste and texture.  I would call this a successful experiment for sure.  The loaf was gobbled up by six paninis and the end crusts didn’t go wanting either.

The next day, I brought out the remaining portion of dough and shards of cheese and began again.  This time, I heated up a 3 quart enameled cast iron dutch oven and moved the cheese bread directly into that vessel (once the rising was complete), covered it and again set the timer for the initial portion of the baking.  Uncovered, baked longer and what you see below is the evidence of another successful loaf. 

Cheese Bread

So, there you have it.  If Breadworks would have had the Asiago bread, this experiment may never had happened.  I am glad they were out of bread, glad I failed to plan ahead.  The result was empowering.  Every successful cooking experiment pushes me to try new things to feel more secure in my knowledge and more capable to teach. 

I won’t spell out the details of the start to finish Ciabatta recipe, that recipe in its entirity is here.  Just know that after you have allowed the finished dough its initial rise, cut the dough into two portions.  You can add in about 2/3 cups of little cheese chunks  to one half of the dough and allow the dough to rise again.  The remaining dough can be used for Ciabatta, or another experiment. 

If you’d like to make a slicing loaf, place the dough in a traditional loaf pan, the ready the oven with a large roasting pan that will hold the loaf pan.  You’ll get the idea by reading the Mark Bittman article here.  I must say, that every time I uncover a loaf of bread baked with this method, I am overcome with curiousity and amazement.

Enjoy!

Everybody Loves a Quickie

Don’t we all need a quickie now and then?  A quick snack, a quick dinner, you know what I mean.  I love to run into the kitchen when the mood is high and for just a moment, you think you might starve if you don’t eat something RIGHT NOW, and be able to pull a snack or dinner out of the fridge or the pantry.  Something delicious, something satisfying and hopefully something unique. 

We’ve all had our moments when Ritz  crackers, cold cheese and mustard have had to sit in for a snack attack.  I’m talking about something a bit more lavish, but equally simple.  Enter the Culinary Quickie.  You’ll know you’ve achieved the status of a true Culinary Quickie by the level of pure, almost animal satisfaction that will follow.

A true Culinary Quickie will satisfy, but not stuff – it will always leave you wanting more.  Curiousity piqued.  You will most likely have recurrent thoughts about the foray.  Your mind might drift in and out, visiting adaptations, what ifs.  When can I have this again?  How might I change it?  Was that as good as I thought it was?  Did my husband enjoy it as much as I did?  What will my other foodie friends think?

New Year’s night, while the chicken was roasting, and the potatoes simmering, it hit me!  Rosanne Roseannadanna might say “I thought I was gonna die!”  Starving!  Pulling from some leftovers from the dinner I prepared the previous evening, I began executing my quickie.  Lavash round made at Baban Bakery(available at Paul’s and Lotsa Pasta).  Old Forest salami from Lotsa Pasta.  Toasted Walnuts.  Olive oil.  Honey.  Freshly ground black pepper.  Fresh rosemary

Put together and slid into the oven where the chicken was roasting.  In less than 5 minutes, my husband and I were noshing on an utterly divine slice of culinary magic.  The moans, the groans, eyes rolling, teeth gnashing, lips smacking.  This, my friends was a true culinary quickie.   We were working on a bottle of White Bordeaux, 2007 Bellechasse, which added to the experience.

You too can achieve this level of satisfaction.  Follow the list below, or dream up your own little bit of heaven.  I’m sure you have all the ingredients you need, if not for this particular version, something equally as satisfying.  Let yourself go.

Gorgonzola flatbread ready for the oven

Gorgonzola and Salami Flatbread

1 round of soft lavash

olive oil

4-5 slices Old Forest salami

2-3 oz crumbled gorgonzola cheese

a handful of toasted walnuts, broken

honey

black pepper

a few rosemary needles

Heat the oven to 400 degrees, or just bake at the temperature of whatever is in the oven.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the lavash; smear it around with your hands.  Space out the salami over the bread.  Sprinkle on the cheese and walnuts.  Drizzle with honey, then grind black pepper over the top to your liking.  Chop or tear up the rosemary needles, sprinkling them over sparingly. 

 Using a peel or your hands, place your creation directly on the oven rack and watch very closely.  Crisping up the lavash and melting the cheese just slightly will take only a few minutes. 

A word to the wise – etiquette when experiencing a new culinary creation requires that the chef recieve adequate praise.  Don’t assume that your purveyor of bliss will know that you enjoyed the experience.  Be sincere, but be sure to convey your appreciation.

Enjoy!