Monthly Archives: November 2011

Cookies, Cookies, and More Cookies

My Mom's recipe box.

I sent an email to my aunts about our family gift exchange as I couldn’t remember who I drew or, actually, if we drew names. I seem to recall something at our family reunion, but I’m not really clear on it. My mind turned toward Christmas and getting ready for the whole big tadoo. And, inevitably, for me, that means cookies. Just as my thoughts turned in that direction, I let out a soft sigh and said, “Cookies.”

My daughter, who was sitting directly across from me at the table, looked down at the very recently emptied pie plate sitting in front of me and back up at me with a shocked horror. “You just had pie, and now you want cookies?”

The look on her face had me giggling straight to tears and it took me a while to explain my whole thought process and that, no, I wasn’t actually interested in eating cookies, but planning the making of cookies. It used to be that I would make 10-12 varieties of cookies, package them up, and send them to various friends and family. I think my shopping list went something like five dozen eggs, ten pounds butter, fifteen pounds flour, three pounds chocolate chips, six pounds nuts…well, you get the idea. I never got the feeling that the cookies weren’t appreciated, but lifestyles have changed in the last twenty years and eating so much sugar and fat laden baked goods just isn’t being done so much any more.

I will still make some cookies, but I’ve pared it down to making one kind of cookie per person in the immediate household. That’s just six kinds of cookies, and that’s easy for me to knock out in no time. My mother in law will make rolled-iced sugar cookies and host a couple of fun filled icing parties with my son and his friends. (Yay! The only kind of cookie that I don’t like making are rolled and cut.) We’ll have plenty of cookies to put on plates and take to various parties and gatherings, a few to indulge ourselves with over the holidays, and that will be more than enough.

My mom would start making cookies a day or two after Thanksgiving. We had one 12″ reel-to-reel Heathkit made tape player that had one tape in it year round–a collection Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and others of that era singing secular Christmas diddies. My mom would crank it up loud and hum to ol’ blue eyes crooning away while rolling cookie dough into balls and placing them evenly onto cookie sheets. Most butter cookies taste better after they sit in a tightly closed box for a few weeks, so she’d start with those and move toward the more delicate and less sturdy cookies.

My mom's recipe box with the recipe in front.

Once I’d moved out and started my own baking, I had this tradition of calling my mom on a yearly basis for one recipe in particular. I’d write it down on a scrap of paper and lose the scrap by the following year. Deep down, I think it was just an excuse to get me to call my mom–not necessary really, since I talked to her three times a week anyway. After she died, I got her old-fashioned recipe box. I didn’t open it for months, well, not until after Thanksgiving. When I opened it, I saw that the recipe in front was the one I had been calling her for. Apparently, she didn’t use this box much any more…maybe not at all except for my phone call. It was pretty clear that the last time she’d used it was when I had called her. I’ve used it several times in the last few years looking for recipes I remember from my childhood (Aunt Doris’ tamale pie, Grandma Herbert’s Cracker Jack…) I don’t move things around and always leave the cookie recipe right back in front where I can find it.

Scandinavian Oatmeal Cookies
3 Cups quick cooking rolled oats finely ground
3/4 C soft Butter
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
Halved Walnuts

Grind oats through medium fine block in food chopper. Combine with softened butter, sugar and vanilla. Work at low speed with mixer or hands. Form into small balls and place on lightly buttered cookie sheet. Put half a nut onto top. Bake at 325° until very lightly browned. These store very well in a tightly closed container up to 6 weeks. They taste better after at LEAST a week.


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Shaker Lemon Pie

One of my all time favorite kitchen tools. Microplanes were originally used in woodworking, but some clever person figured out they make light work in the kitchen.

I mentioned in my last post that I was making two lemon pies this week. The one reserved for Thanksgiving day dinner is the Shaker Lemon Pie. I was disappointed in how mine ended up looking this year, though it still tasted terrific.

While using a microplane to zest the lemons isn’t necessary, it is a lot faster and easier than the old fashioned graters out there. (If you only have the old-fashioned boxy style, put a piece of waxed paper over the top and work the grating bits through–removing the waxed paper with the last bits of lemon will save you a lot of scraping effort.)

The scariest tool in our kitchen. It does, however, do the trick.

The Mandolin slicer is the perfect tool for getting paper-thin slices of lemon. Before I purchased the mandolin last year, I used a sharp knife which works just as well if slower. So, if you don’t have a mandolin, just take your time and go for the thinnest possible slices you can. Remove all the seeds from the lemon slices as you work.

Thinly sliced lemons are really important.

The lemons and grated rind sit in sugar. Various recipes call for different lengths of time, but I let mine sit for more than twenty-four hours. I think anything more than eight hours is likely to be just fine, but anything under eight might get you chewier lemon pieces inside the pie. The longer they have to macerate in the sugar and lemon juice, the more likely they are to be tender.

The lemons, sugar and zest mixed together.

The lemons, sugar and zest after 24 hours.

The completed filling waiting for the top crust.

I made a standard white flour pie crust for this. I often use whole wheat pastry flour to make crusts these days, but I didn’t think the lemon would hold up all that well to the whole wheat. People can get a little prickly when you start talking about making pie crusts. There are the die-hard butter enthusiasts, the shortening crowd and the mixed-fat folk. I went to a pie making class a number of years ago, and the person teaching it gave us a mini-chemistry lesson. I came away with a crust recipe that is very simple. For each crust use 1 and 1/4 cup flour, one stick butter, one tablespoon sugar, 1/4 tsp., and ice water. The technique is to cut the cold fat into the dry ingredients and add water until you have a dough. The idea is to make the dough wetter than you think it needs to be so that when you roll it out, the extra flour from the rolling pin won’t make the crust overly dry and brittle. I also learned that a pastry cloth is my best friend when rolling out a crust. (Frankly, I also like the store-bought already rolled, just stick it on the counter for a while and use it kind of pie crusts. They save time and clean-up for a quick and easy pie. I think the best is actually the one in the red box…Pillsbury maybe?…but it uses LARD. Given the fact that a good majority of our friends do not eat lard, I choose to not use it most of the time.)

I also thought it would ‘be fun’ to make a lattice crust. Turns out that the filling of the lemon pie is rather liquid–unlike an apple or cherry pie–and the crust kept dunking down into the filling. When I complained about the finished product to my other pie making friend, he suggested I use the “make the lattice on waxed paper and freeze it method.” Now that I know that is a possibility, I’ll try that next time, but it never occurred to me. Making a lattice crust on top of the pie is the only way I’d ever heard of, so I learned something new yesterday.

Cutting the top crust for a lattice.

Turns out that my lattice ended up half-drowned in the filling this year.

In spite of a quarter of the top crust disappearing into the pie, it still tasted tart and lemony, the way a lemon pie should. Yes, it’s a pucker-up kind of lemon, not a sweet-cloying kind of lemon.

Shaker Lemon Pie

2 large lemons, preferably Meyers (I didn’t have Meyers, and used three smaller regular lemons)
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Grate the zest off the lemons first. Slice paper-thin. Add sugar to lemons and zest and put in non-reactive bowl, preferably glass. Stir every once in a while and allow to macerate for 24 hours. Make your crust, mix the eggs until frothy, add melted butter, salt and flour then add the lemon and sugar mixture. Pour into the crust. Cover with top crust of choice. The easiest will be a flat top with simple vents across the top. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake another 30. (Give or take, watch the pie and make sure it is done–a knife inserted into the center will come out clean when it is done.)

A thin slice ready to enjoy.

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Pie, Pie, and More Pie

We celebrate Thanksgiving with my in-laws and one set of very close friends. We’ve been doing this same general family grouping for the last ten to fifteen years, and there are some slight modification depending on whose parents are visiting. My mom used to come up every year until she died, and her absence has been sorely felt each year since.

On Monday, I had just about the same conversation I have had every year. I begin with the question, “Are you bringing your usual?” To which the answer is a “yes” with a brief listing of the side dishes that are being made. I cook the turkey, a white-bread dressing and mashed potatoes. This list doesn’t change, and, in fact, hold just enough interest to get me to the real point of the discussion. “And what kind of pie are you going to make?”

This last is the crucial part of the entire conversation and points to what Thanksgiving is really all about. Yeah, we cook the turkey, and it’s yummy and all that, but it’s the pie, people. The pie. So, our friends are making apple, cherry and ‘something else.’ I’m making pecan and called dibs on ‘something lemon.’ My mother-in-law will be making pumpkin, mince, shoe-fly and ‘moji’ pie. (This last one is probably not spelled right, but I’ll let her comment on that herself. I think it is derived from PA Dutch for candy pie, or something like that.)

Then, I took the lemon question to the family. Lemon sponge, Lemon Meringue, or Shaker? Meringue was quickly defeated by both husband and son. We were left with everyone wanting both the other two. Normally, this would not be a problem, but I like as little overlap in the pie selection as possible. You’ll note that I did not say ten pies for ten people would be too much. This is an entirely different sort of criteria.

Most people have never heard of lemon sponge pie. I know I hadn’t until I married into a pie-crazed family and started looking up various recipes to widen my own pie-making repertoire. It’s like a lemon cream pie with a thin layer of lemon sponge cake on top. It’s an understated pie, and it’s not particularly beautiful–as you can see by the picture at the top. But, it is simply heaven in the mouth. (If you like lemon.) It’s not as intense as a shaker pie, but sweeter and creamier.

Given that lemon sponge is less forgiving on a second day, I decided to compromise and make a lemon sponge for dessert last night and start the Shaker for Thanksgiving. It takes 24 hours to let the lemons soak in sugar, and the pie itself is just as tasty two or three days out. Next blog, I’ll put up a step-by-step for making a Shaker lemon pie because it’s just so yummy it needs to be shared.

The lemon sponge pie we had last night might possibly be the best one I have ever made. It was extra creamy and delicious on the bottom. My kids each had two slices, and there were no leftovers.

Lemon Sponge Pie
1 Cup sugar
2 Tbsp. butter
3 eggs, separated at room temp
1/2 tsp salt
juice and grated rind of one lemon (large, or 2 small)
1 1/2 cups hot water or milk (I used 3/4 C soy creamer and 3/4 soy milk)
one unbaked pie shell

Cream butter and sugar. Add yolks and beat well. Add flour, salt, lemon juice and rind. Add hot water/milk. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into unbaked shell and bake at 325 for 45-50 minutes. Should be brown on top and will still look a little wobbly. Set to cool at room temp and serve when cool.

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Coconut…the new miracle food? Oh, and an awesome quick dinner recipe…

My pantry and fridge have always had some amount of coconut products in them. (Oh, I forgot the Coconut Bliss Ice Cream for the picture, so add that mentally.) This is no doubt due in large part to the fact I am eating a vegan diet most of the time and my daughter prefers a gluten free and dairy free diet. She doesn’t have ‘allergies’ per se, but she sure feels better when they are not part of her diet.

Coconut is versatile and tasty. Coconut milk is rich and creamy. Coconut fiber bulks up and adds substance to baked goods while adding tons of good for your gut dietary fiber. Coconut oil makes for an unbelievably good frosting. Look around the store and you’ll see coconut everywhere these days. I’ve heard all sorts of rumors about the health benefits of coconut, and I’m more than a little skeptical about it all. Googling for information about food and health claims takes some creativity to get a balanced picture. There are a bazillion places selling coconut products on the web, and all of them make various claims for their products that border on snake oil sales. It’s just a bit too much to be believed.

There does seem to be evidence that the study done four decades ago showing how bad coconut oil is for you was flawed–it used hydrogenated coconut oil. I don’t think anyone disputes how unhealthy hydrogenated anything is for us. So, the negatives drawn from that study are more likely from the hydrogenated fat and not the saturated coconut fat. But fat, any kind of fat, isn’t GOOD in large quantities. My mom was a Registered Dietician, and she used to pull her hair out with every new study and say, “Everything in moderation…”

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Coconut Frosting and Shredded Coconut

Coconut has always been one of my favorite foods. Like many people, my first taste of coconut was sweet. I am betting it was the frosting of a German’s Chocolate cake. I was in my twenties before I had it in a curry or soup. I started subbing coconut fiber for wheat flour because it has a great glycemic index number, and it’s gluten free a couple of years ago. The amount of coconut in our diet has gone up over the last few years, and my cholesterol level has gone down dramatically. I’ve also lost a bunch of weight and I exercise a LOT. The combination of all that is probably the cause of the good numbers, so there’s no way to make a direct correlation between my improved health and eating more coconut. But, I’m not going to avoid it just because it’s saturated fat.

And for the recipe. I recently joined a cookbook club, and one of the recipes shared last week at our first meeting was a chicken, cauliflower and garbanzo bean coconut milk curry. I liked the flavors of the curry an awful lot. I was then flipping through my “Four Ingredient Vegan” cookbook and came across a rather boring looking recipe for squash ravioli in coconut cream sauce with broccoli. I decided to merge the two and add a twist or two of my own to see what would happen. The result was a winner. My non-coconut loving son had two helpings and there were no leftovers.

Quick Curry Pasta and Broccoli
For Six:
2 tbsp. coconut oil (or canola)
one bunch scallions, white parts only thinly sliced
one large shallot, minced or pressed through garlic press
two cloves garlic, mined or pressed through garlic press
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 tsp or more crushed red chili to taste
1 tsp salt (more to taste)
Two cans Thai Lite Coconut Milk
2 10 oz bags broccoli florets/pieces frozen
3 packages (or six servings worth) frozen butternut squash ravioli
Cilantro, chopped for garnish
lime, cut into wedges for garnish

Heat the coconut oil, add the scallion, garlic, shallot and ginger and cook until just soft about two minutes. Stir in curry powder, chili and salt stir for one minute or so until the spices are fragrant. Pour in the coconut milk, stirring slowly to incorporate the spices into the milk. Bring to a gentle boil. Pour in the frozen ravioli and then frozen broccoli (Yes! Straight from their packages.) Cover and simmer about ten minutes. I let the broccoli float on top of the sauce and ravioli and it seemed to steam on top pretty well. When the ravioli seemed done, I stirred it all in together (gently to not break the ravioli) to coat the broccoli with the sauce. It ended up being very thick and creamy and we used forks to eat it. Serve the cilantro and lime on the side, encouraging people to try a bit of each before covering their whole dish with it. Not everyone liked the whole combo, but I liked the way the lime brightened the ravioli.

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The NaNoWriMo Thing, Again

It’s November, and my third year of doing the “NaNoWriMo” thing. Last year, well I blogged about last year. here, here, here, and here. The odd thing I just noticed is my current wordcount shows up on last year’s posts. You’ll have to take my word for it I did the 100K plus words last year. That was such an insane thing to do, I have no such plans to attempt a double-duty a second time around. One will be more than enough for me, thank you.

This morning, I woke up to a total of 5,000 words and thinking maybe I’d bail on the project. After all, the whole idea of NaNoWriMo for me has often been to just get me writing again. And, I’ve been writing my fingers off pretty constantly without NaNoWriMo for an excuse. I’ve made 53 blog posts since January 2011. That’s roughly 40,000 words alone. Short stories I’ve been writing add up to roughly to another 50,000. I didn’t do anything with last year’s messes I created during NaNoWriMo. One could be edited down to a 25,000 word short story with relative ease. The other could be beefed up to become a full novella. Add to that, I have the previous year’s NaNo project gathering dust, if that’s what happens when a project is completely digitized, and the novel I started several years ago in the UW Writing Program I took. I have about a dozen more ideas sketched out in small word documents, waiting to be rediscovered when I have time. So, instead of two NaNo projects, I’m doing one NaNo project plus multiple short stories under both my regular name and my pen name, hosting a book tour stop on my erotica blog, blogging here, blogging there, and trying to keep up with all the social media involved in this. I’m tweeting occasionally and following other writers in both spheres of writing.

What happened between this morning’s questioning of my sanity at doing this again with only 5,000 words on the 8th day and this post? Magic. That thing that happens when you sit down to write and the words flow. Right now, I am a little giddy with a word count high. Some of the six thousand words I whipped out this morning are put together in well-crafted sentences–a bonus! Editing during NaNo will slow you down, so the whole idea is to get that first draft (the one Anne Lamotte calls the vomit draft) out there. It’s nice to re-read just a little bit and see some nice…erm…chunks…that I can use someday. Granted, I did play a little game with conjunctions, after all why not get two words for “you are” instead of one? But it was one of those “good days” when it comes to writing. I might even go a do a little more.

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