January 2010 archive

The Quest for the Perfect Snickerdoodle or What I Did for Love

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They say the surest way to a man's heart is through his stomach.  I'd have to disagree – the surest way to anyone's heart is through their stomach but when I know I need to pull out the siren song to lure my husband toward a much needed chore that needs to be done, I put on my retro jello mold apron and whip up a batch of these cookies.

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Snickerdoodles are the cookie of Marcus' childhood.  Along with his beloved cinnamon rolls, snickerdoodles represent love and security – they take him back to those sun-filled moments most of us have of our youth – those times when we felt like everything was taken care of and we felt nurtured and adored.  

When Marcus and I first met, he would wax rhapsodic about these cookies and I could never understand why he was so coo coo for cocoa puffs about them.  I had many encounters with snickerdoodles in my youth, particularly at school bake sales.  I could never understand why a person would choose a snickerdoodle over the gooey meltiness of a brownie, or the sticky, crunchy goodness of a rice-krispie treat.  The snickerdoodles of my youth were always dusty affairs, a granular desert-like dessert.  I like my cookies with crisp browned edges, and soft centers, not with a dry, desiccated sandiness that seemed to suck the moisture from my mouth.  

But I loved the boy, and if he loved snickerdoodles, I was going to make them for him.  This was at least twelve years ago so the internet was still in its beginning stages but I found somebody's tried and true recipe on a usenet group and gave it a shot.  These cookies weren't great, but they were good and I could see the potential behind them.  I kept trying recipes but never seemed to find the zenith of snickerdoodles I was shooting for – melting butteriness mixed with sugar and spice with crackly edges and a pliable center.

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About six years ago, Marcus and I embarked on a baking marathon.  Armed with a new DSL connection, we did a search on the internet and found six recipes that seemed promising.  So in one day, Marcus and I baked our little hearts out and found the winner – Mrs. Sigg's Snickerdoodles at Allrecipes.com.  Instead of shortening, we use all butter but the rest of the recipe is the same.

With a cookie like this, using the best ingredients you can is essential.  There's no chocolate or nuts to break up the flavor of the actual cookie so using the best ingredients will make these cookies sing.  I use double-strength vanilla from Penzeys and I really love their Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cinnamon in this recipe.  I recently used their new cinnamon blend and while it still makes a great cookie, I'm still partial to the Vietnamese Cinnamon.  If you can swing it, organic butter is also a great idea.  I've made test batches with non-organic and organic butter and I think the cookies made with organic butter are better. 

All of the above are nitpicky things but when you're looking for the pinnacle of snickerdoodles, you're willing to go to any length to achieve perfection.  My husband is coo coo for cocoa puffs over these cookies, but not as coo coo for cocoa puffs as I am about him. 

January 19

Note to anyone who might have received cookies from me recently – no cookies were harmed, licked or nibbled on during the filming of this photo shoot.


Our Perfect Version of Snickerdoodles
(Adapted from Mrs Sigg's Snickerdoodles)

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt 

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

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First, cream together the butter, the 1 1/2 cups sugar, the eggs and the vanilla in a medium size bowl. 

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Next, mix the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl, then blend into wet ingredients. Mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined but don't over mix them!

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Shape dough by rounded spoonfuls into balls approximately 1 inch in diameter. Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Roll balls of dough in mixture.

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Place 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets.

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Bake 8 to 10 minutes (I set the timer on 9 minutes and then check them through the oven window).  The cookies should still be slightly puffy when you get them out, but set around the edges.  

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Please click here for a printable recipe!

Dark Days Challenge – Week 10 – Enough Soup for an Army

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This week, I found myself making enough soup to feed an army.  I’m normally not quite so enthusiastic with my cooking but between my husband and I, instructions got garbled enough that he soaked my entire bag of Borlotti beans, rather than just half the package.  There was no way I was going to waste those precious beans so I got out the giant stock pot and got to it.

You may think my devotion to saving these beans is a bit peculiar – after all, dried beans are cheap and easy to find.  First of all, these weren’t just any beans, these were Rancho Gordo beans.  When I went to San Francisco this past September, one of my goals was to come back with some of these gorgeous beauties.  Thanks to the Ferry Market Building and the lovely Anita from Married with Dinner, I scored two bags full – one filled with Borlotti beans, the other full of Christmas Limas.  It would be a cold day in Hell before I wasted any of these jewels.

The other reason I was keen on using every single one of these beans is because the only local source of dried beans in the area(that I’ve found so far) would be beans that I would grow.  I may find a way to do this in the future but most beans for drying are produced on fairly vigorous plants that take up a lot of space.  My city lot can only hold so many plants, much to my dismay.  I do have some bush cowpeas ordered this year so I may be able to produce my own beans yet, although each year I end up finding out that my seed order is too enthusiastic for my yard and my time.  So even though these beans weren’t entirely local, the fact that I carried them on my person made them local enough for me to use in my challenge.

I started out sauteing some local sun-dried tomato sausage that we purchased from Laurel Creek Meat.  When it was almost done, I added some potato onions from my yard.  I cooked those for about eight minutes.  Then I added a few minced cloves of our Tennessee Redneck garlic and deglazed the pan with a little bit of unlocal balsamic vinegar.  All of this spicy goodness got thrown into my huge stock pot.  I added tons of chicken stock (made from local chicken) and then added my precious beans.

One thing I was amazed at was how tasty the beans tasted after a quick soak.  There wasn’t that over-whelming, almost metallic beany taste that so many dried beans seem to have.  These were sweet in a way that I’ve never tasted in a dry bean before.  

After cooking for about 30 minutes, I then added way too many cans of my dwindling supply of locally canned tomatoes.  Half of those I pureed before adding to my soup.  I tasted for salt and added rosemary, oregano and parsley from my yard.  I cooked this until the beans were tender and my soup was done!

After waiting a day (I’m a firm believer that lots of soups & stews always taste better the second day), we served us up a hearty portion of our delicious soup and thanked the city of San Francisco for giving us “local” beans.  After hardly making a dent in it, we packaged up portions of this soup for friends of ours that just became new parents and put the rest in bags for our freezer.  

 

 

 

Warming up with Eggs in Hell

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Eggs in Hell has to be one of my favorite meals.  Every time we make it, I wonder why we don't make it more.  It's cheap, quick, healthy & delicious.  You almost never have to make it the same way twice and you can serve it for breakfast, lunch & dinner.  You can use up leftovers in it and I almost always have the ingredients around to make it.  Plus it's got a pretty killer name and I love telling people that they're eating eggs in hell.  It keeps them on their toes.

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I almost didn't post a recipe for this because I rarely make it the same way but I realize that people like to have a standard recipe to follow.  Please try this and then try these variations:

  • Saute some sausage to start with and then add everything else.
  • Leftover salsa?  Use that instead of the homemade tomato sauce below
  • Use cumin & cilantro in place of the other herbs & serve with queso fresca or cheddar on top
  • Leftover spaghetti sauce? Use that instead of the homemade tomato sauce below
  • Add oregano & a little bit of cinnamon and serve with feta cheese on top
  • Add in any extra vegetables you might have – I love adding lots of hot or sweet peppers

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Eggs in Hell
(Serves 2 people)

2 tsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs(I used 1 tsp each of parsley, oregano & rosemary)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
4 eggs
4 slices of bread


Place saute pan over medium to medium high heat.  Add olive oil and when oil is hot, add onion.  Saute for 5 to 7 minutes or until translucent and just beginning to brown.  Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Pour in can of tomatoes and use a fork to crush the larger pieces up (or if you want a smoother sauce, run them through a blender or food processor first).  Add herbs and salt and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. 

Give sauce a good stir.  Crack eggs over pan and gently place on top of sauce.  Cover and let cook for about eight minutes or until whites around the edges of the yolk turn from clear to white.  This will give you eggs that are done but the yolks will still be slightly runny.  If the thought of runny yolks squick you out, cook for about 3 minutes more or until the whites over the top of the yolk turn from clear to white.

A few minutes before your eggs are done, put bread in to toast.  Spoon eggs out onto the bread with the sauce and sprinkle with the cheese.  Serve!

Please click here for a printable recipe!

 

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Dark Days Challenge – Week 9 – Tough to Find Time for a Purely Local Meal

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Time had been short in our house lately and at this time of the year, it takes a decent amount of time to plan a local meal that sounds delicious enough to share.  I mean, yes – I could post the entirely local meal of hard boiled eggs and dried apple slices I ate.  But that's not a very pretty picture and I don't think it would entice many people to eat local.  The thing is, there's very few meals in this house that don't contain local components but at this point, I'm relying almost entirely on my improvised root cellar, freezer and pantry for ingredients.  I can still get hold of however much local meat I want, but we have no winter farmer's markets here and my winter garden took a pretty hard hit during the last patch of sustained cold weather we had.  Pasta is my usual go-to meal when I'm short on time but the only local pasta would be pasta I made and that kind of eats up the time savings, even if I did get a pasta machine.

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I've still got my "Get Out of Jail" card meal of breakfast in my pocket because we improvised a quick meal tonight from the freezer and pantry.  I smoked a bunch of chicken leg quarters (from whole chickens we cut up from Laurel Creek Meat).  Most of it's going in a soup I'm making for some friends of ours who are new parents but we had a couple of legs left over.  I took that meat, diced it up a little and pulled the rest apart with forks.  Then I made a sauce from local wildflower honey (from Benton's), homemade chipotle ketchup I canned this summer, a little minced local garlic and a little bit of Spanish smoked paprika.  We served this on homemade no-knead bread and ate a few pickles that our friend Meryl made from cucumbers she grew!

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This chipotle ketchup I made this summer is fantastic and unfortunately, was my last jar.  I'll be making several batches of that next summer.  It's delicious on french fries but worked really well as an impromptu barbecue sauce.  No – I won't be taking it to Memphis for competition but it was very tasty for a quick meal.

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