Chocolate Chip Caramel Pecan Cookies

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I wrote this recipe last week during the blizzard, but didn’t publish it because I was hung up on a detail. This is somewhat unusual for me because I am not generally the sort of person who gets bothered enough by details to get hung up on them.

The detail had to do with portion scoops. I was quite sure I was confused because of my allergy to math and all things numbers. I carry a lot of shame that, as a pretty smart person with a doctorate, I can rarely work out even the most rudimentary number problem. So I assumed that everyone else understands portion scoops, and that I am just an irredeemable nitwit who shouldn’t try to write recipes.

And then I came across this thread on The Members of ATK , CC and CI Facebook group message board to which I subscribe (it is a source of good info and delight, I encourage you to follow my link and join). It became clear to me that I am not alone in my portion scoop mystification. So I hereby “come out” as a portion scoop nimrod who has been alone in a closet full of confusing utensils when I should have been playing happily with my equally scoop-deficient friends.

It’s a wonderful recipe, based loosely on one I found recently on my favorite food blog, Orangette. Molly’s recipe was a blondie, and based on one she found in one of her favorite cookbooks. Once, you try her recipe, or mine, you may wind up (as I did), putting caramel shards into all sorts of things, like yogurt and muffins. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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Chocolate Chip Caramel Pecan Cookies

makes a dozen big cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick), softened, but still cool
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white or cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1/3 cup caramel shards (see recipe below)

You can make these by hand, but I like the stand mixer for cookies, so adapt as you choose.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle, place the butter and sugars, beat on medium to combine well. Add the egg and vanilla, scraping bowl as needed to get everything well mixed. Now, add the flour mixture and keep the mixer on low to avoid making a huge, floury mess. As soon as the flour is incorporated, add the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined. You’ll want to do a few turns by hand just to get everything distributed.

Use a portion scoop that measures 2 inches across*. Alternatively, scoop with a big spoon and use your hands to make dough balls that are 2 inches in diameter. Place these on a sheet pan and freeze them for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375° and line a fresh sheet pan (or two) with parchment. You can bake up to 8 cookies in a single pan. I like to keep the dough frozen in a zip-lock bag and bake just as many as I need at a time.

Bake, from frozen, for 11 minutes. They should be just starting to brown. They won’t spread much.

*I think I can say that this is a #16 scoop, that it holds 2 oz. or 1/4 cup. But I say this with almost no confidence. I will also say that I don’t think it is that important and if you use the wrong size scoop, the cookies will still be delicious.

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Caramel Shards

3/4 sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
2 tbs water

Line a sheet pan with parchment.

Place sugar and water in a heavy pan, and stir to moisten the sugar. Place over high heat. Don’t stir, but you may swirl the pan while it’s cooking. Cook until the caramel turns, well, caramel-colored. Immediately, pour the caramel onto the prepared pan and tilt the pan to make a thin, even layer. Be careful, molten sugar is dangerously hot!

Let cool completely, then break into 1/2 inch-ish shards. Be careful, here, these can be sharp! I know, this recipe is so dangerous!

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Posted in baked, baked goods, baking, snack, sweets, treats, Uncategorized, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gin

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She always loved a bargain, so if we could bring our own wine to a restaurant, that establishment was especially esteemed. I don’t remember how many years ago (maybe 15?), Mom took us to her favorite place, bottle of red in hand, for an Italian dinner near her home.

Conflict and confusion broke out almost immediately when the hostess explained that policy had changed and we were not allowed to consume our wine, but would be welcome to purchase a bottle from the restaurant’s new collection. Fine, we said. And then, she insisted we remove the offending bottle from the premises. Well. Mom put her foot down. She told the young woman that was ridiculous and stood her ground. Her opponent wouldn’t budge. I prepared myself to be hungry for a long time while we located another acceptable byo place.

But, my mother has never been one to tolerate starvation, so she conceded. Or so I thought. I walked her out to the car to stow the wine. And as she closed the trunk, I heard her say, “Well, she’s not gonna be happy about the martini in my purse”! I thought she was kidding. I should have known better.

Seated at a table for six, Mom proceeded to ask all her companions to drink their water. She then emptied her water glass into the partially empty glasses, fished out some ice, and reached into her big purse for a small jar.

Pouring her contraband gin over ice, she snagged a big, fat olive from the relish tray, plunked it into her martini, and took a big, satisfied, sip. Score, Judith!

So, I come by my love of gin honestly. And what better way to honor my mom than to try my hand at making my own version of our favorite spirit this week, when the juniper berries are ripe?

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I chose high quality vodka, and went out to harvest fragrant branches from laden evergreens just up the road. I plucked about ¼ cup of berries and chucked them into a pint jar with a couple long pieces of lemon zest (I used a potato peeler, careful to take just the colored part of the rind), then filled the jar to the brim with vodka.

I let my infusion steep for 3 days, shaking occasionally. Some of my sources called for filtering the resulting spirit, but I decided to try it simply strained, instead. My logic was that more of the juniper and lemon flavor would be retained that way.

The gin was a rousing success, a lovely yellow color, just the right amount of bitter woodiness from the juniper, good hit of lemon on the finish. I popped the jar into the freezer so I could enjoy it the way I always prefer my gin, syrupy-cold. Delicious.

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Special thanks to my hand models, Bob and Brian (who has fled the country to Australia since these photos were shot). And super-special props to Megan, the best bartender ever, for suggestions, taste testing, and general awesomeness!

This post is dedicated to Mom, who is currently recovering from a stroke and subsequent brain surgery. She is unable to eat or drink right now, but we are all hoping that she will be able to enjoy a martini again soon. Until then, I hope you will join me in drinking a hearty toast to her!

Posted in drink, drinks, easy, family, gluten free, Uncategorized, vegan, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Farm Market Behavior: My Idea of Fun

 

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This is a bit embarrassing. If you know me well, you have probably witnessed this behavior. If you are a total stranger, you may have been aware of it. But the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances probably don’t know about this THING I do. And I do it all the time.

I go to a market. Might be our wonderful local farmer’s market. Might be the supermarket. Might be a store or outdoor coop in a faraway place (like in Hanalei, on Kauai). I get so excited about a particular item, usually fruit or vegetable, I start brainstorming about how I’m going to prepare it. When I do that, it is not at all unusual for a small crowd to gather. Other shoppers often begin asking questions, and before long, I’m conducting an impromtu cooking class.

Vendors generally love this. It’s free advertisement for their produce. It’s not uncommon for people to follow me around, see what else I buy, asking me questions the whole time. What can I tell you, this is my idea of fun!

This past Sunday, I indulged in another one of my odd ideas of fun. I sent Bob to the market and gave him only loose suggestions about what he should buy. When he got home, I got to play my little “what to cook” game without the audience. This is also very amusing. To me, anyway.

And guess what? Today, you get to be the audience!

This time of year, my go-to preparation for fall veggies is roasting. Usually, I do them simply, tossing with just salt, pepper, and olive oil. Scrub or peel the veggies, and cut them into similar sized pieces so they get done at roughly the same time. I like a 400° oven, but if you’ve got something else going, all you need to do is vary the cooking time for good results at different temps.

Here, I’ve roasted broccoli, brussels sprouts, parsnips, carrots, and turnips. They took about 20 minutes to be nicely charred and tender-perfect. But if anything was done before the potatoes were soft, I’d just take ‘em off the sheet sooner. Roasted veggies are good hot, warm, or a room temp.

Along with these gorgeous beauties, I roasted a hunk of good Greek feta. Just a glug of olive oil, and in 10 minutes, the cheese was bronzed and oozy, but held its shape nicely.

The veggies were served with the cheese and a drizzle of local honey. To paraphrase Laurie Colwin, I would walk through fire for this meal.

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This morning, I cut up the leftover veggies, gave them a turn in the microwave, tossed them on top of some dressed greens, and topped it all with some soft handmade mozzarella for my husband to take for lunch on his long day of teaching.

Oh, before I move on, you may be wondering about the stunning fractal-amazing Romanesco in the photo.  It got its turn in a hot oven the following day. If you can find one, you must try it. Sweet, nutty, tender, it benefits from a sprinkle of parm before munching. Mine didn’t make it to the table, nor did it last long enough for me to snap a photo. Sorry!

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This very wise man also brought me some figs. These did not come from the local market, but a specialty store on his way home from work. I am a fig fanatic, so immediately set to work making a fig-worthy breakfast, some coconutty baked oats.

I mixed together a couple cups of thick cut organic oats, handful of flax meal, some slivered almonds, and coconut chips. Tossed with a bit of my own maple syrup and some coconut milk until just moist. Popped into a wood fired baking dish, and baked at 350° for about a half hour, until browned. Served with ripe figs and some extra syrup. Breakfast heaven!

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Note to blog followers: when you go to your market and find something interesting, use the Contact link and send me an email. I’ll help you figure out what to do with it. Like I said, this is my idea of fun!

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Posted in breakfast, ceramics, dinner, gluten free, healthy, main course, roasted, Uncategorized, vegetable, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Wheat Crackers, Chicken Pie, and “Unfried” Tomatoes

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Remind me to tell you all about my break from blogging and social media. For now, I want to welcome you back to DebsPots blog with a little story and tell you about some of the cooking I’ve been doing lately here in the house in the woods.

This morning, I stepped out of my car and looked into the angelic face of a curly haired 3 year old wearing a jean jacket and a pair of khakis. He gave me a huge smile, then made his hands into claws and growled. I said “hi,” and then he yelled “Spider Man!” Smiling back, I walked away wondering about the interaction. Then I realized: Verbal Halloween Costume!!!

Everyone in my family has a weakness for Carr’s wheat crackers; I served them in When Life Gives you Lemons. So, when Stella published a recipe for a homemade version on Serious Eats, she had me at “wheat.” Now, I keep the ingredients (all organic, mind you) on hand and bake them every week. If you do make them, and they’re not quite crisp enough, pop them into a 250° oven for a half hour or so, preferably on a rack so the air can circulate.

They are the perfect snack when you need a little something. They’re crisp and toasty and terrific all on their own, but even better with a schmear of peanut or almond butter. Nothing beats a layer of cream cheese and some apricot or fig jam. Or lemon curd. There’s nothing lovlier next to a cup of Hot Chocolate. Or a bowl of ice cream, with or without warm chocolate or caramel sauce.

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But we all need protein sometimes, so I spatchcocked (I love that word), seasoned, and roasted an organic, free range, chicken under a brick. I’m not sure I’ll do it that way again because the skin stuck to the nonstick skillet and I lost half of the crispiness I’d worked so hard to achieve. But the meal was yummy and there was more than half a bird leftover.

The next day, I pulled all the meat from the bones. Do you enjoy that task? I always do it when I’m a little peckish and reward myself with some of the choice bits, like the oyster. Saving the meat for later, I dumped the bones and skin into a pot and brewed up some bone broth. Bone broth is the lazy cook’s version of stock, no need to add anything else; tasty and useful!

Later in the day, I trimmed and blanched some baby artichokes. Parcooked a local yukon gold in the microwave, and cubed it up. Sautéed green onion, local carrot, the artichokes, the pototoes, and some minced celery in leftover chicken fat combined with olive oil. Threw in a spoonful of flour, then the drippings from the chicken, and a good pour of bone broth. After a few minutes on a low heat, I had a gorgeous stew, into which I tossed a handful of spinach for flavor and color.

I could have stopped there, but I’d promised Bob a pot pie, so I set about making a biscuit crust; an old favorite from my beloved Laurie Colwin, but with the addition of some organic whole wheat flour (again, pretending to be a bit more healthy) and a bit less butter. You can sub some olive oil and/or chicken fat here, too, if you like. This supple crust is a dream, comes together and rolls out in a flash.

In lieu of a pie plate, I used a low-sided, wide, wood-fired stoneware bowl. Slid in the stew, arranged the dough on top, and made some air vents. Baked the pot pie in a 350° oven for 40 minutes. Savory and delicious! You could sub the artichokes for more traditional peas, a less labor intensive option.

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Oh, and I made some not-fried green tomatoes to go with. A lovely friend gave me a big bag full of very unripe San Marzanos last week. So I sliced them up, drizzled them with some panko, lots of salt and pepper, plenty of parm, and a glug of excellent olive oil, baked on a sheet pan on the other rack. Heaven with a glass of sparkly.

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I wish you a happy halloween, and a beautiful start to your November!

Posted in baked, baking, ceramics, chicken, dessert, dinner, lunch, main, main course, one pot meals, poultry, side dish, snacks, treats, Uncategorized, vegetable, whole grain | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Rhubarb Pecan Snack Bread

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Happy belated Mother’s Day!

I recognize that originially, Mother’s Day was a promotion by card and candy companies interested in boosting sales, but I am hopelessly romantic when it comes to anything having to do with my children, so it is one of my favorite days of the year. In spite of the fact that it makes me sneeze and puts me at grave risk for Lyme Disease and poison ivy, I hike and plant, and mow, and adore all things May.

Of course, May and Mother’s Day both make me think of my own mom, whose 81st birthday is next week. Mom is a huge fan of lilacs. And, she adores rhubarb. Since I was small, she has always had a rhubarb plant, and celebrates spring by baking a strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Last week, Bob and I drove through pouring rain to begin the process of cleaning out my parents’ New Jersey house. They have made the move to Florida full-time for health reasons and the lake house is for sale. We walked around back, and I saw the rhubarb. Knife in hand, I ventured out into the torrent to collect a handful of red/green stems, discarding the big, poisonous leaves.

I wanted to make something that would showcase the beautiful stalks. I didn’t want to sweeten it too much, and I forgot to buy strawberries. Some research turned up a recipe on the wonderful King Arthur Flour site for a quick bread. As always, I made a couple tweaks for both taste and health.

Mary and Barbara joined me for the baking, and I dropped off a hunk for them the next day. Bob and I are working on the rest. The bread is moist, lightly sweet, with a pleasant sour bite from the rhubarb. The nuggets of pecan add a delightful crunch. It is perfect warm or toasted with a schmear of cream cheese.

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Rhubarb Pecan Snack Bread

2 ½ cups sliced rhubarb, plus one stalk for garnish
1 cup organic all purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs, room temp
1 cup organic cane sugar, divided
sprinkle freshly grated nutmeg
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup walnut or vegetable oil, plus a bit extra for greasing the pan

Extra sugar for decoratiing (opt)

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Cook the sliced rhubarb in a dry pan until it breaks down, about 5 minutes. Add ½ cup of the sugar and mix well. Let cool. Cut the remaining stalk into strips or small half moons to garnish the top of the bread.

Mix the flours, remaining half cup sugar, salt, baking soda, lemon zest, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Mix the eggs, oil and rhubarb mixture in a medium bowl.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix gently until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Now use the reserved raw rhubarb to make a pretty pattern on top of the bread. Sprinkle with extra sugar if you like.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, until firm. Cool in pan on a rack for 15 minutes, turn out and cool to room temp before slicing.

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Posted in baked, baked goods, baking, bread, breakfast, brunch, dessert, snack, sweets, treats, Uncategorized, vegetarian | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Potato Crusted Halibut with Spring Vegetables

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It would be easy to argue that the morel is one of the most prized treasures a forager can find. So imagine my surprise and utter delight when I walked out my front door the other day and discovered dozens of perfect specimens in my “lawn.” I put that word in quotation marks because we don’t really have a lawn here in the woods. We have a motley collection of weeds which I mow once a week during the warm weather.

A quick count before I ran inside to get Bob: 51 morels. He was as dazzled as I. The immediate question: Harvest immediately, or wait a couple of days in the hopes that they would be safe and grow a bit bigger, giving us an even greater yield. I guarded them carefully for two days, during which time they did indeed grow. At that point, I felt they would soon begin to deteriorate and we decided, reverently, to gather them.

I admit, I was so excited (and suffering from hay fever), that I was unable to sleep, and texted Meg to see if she was still up and wanted to chat. We had a lovely 2 am chat during which I asked her what she thought I should cook with the morels. She did not hesitate: “Halibut.” I was speechless because, in fact, I had already decided I would make halibut. She was not as impressed as I was by the resonance. It was, she said, simply the correct answer.

I developed this recipe to showcase our abundance of foraged produce, both the morels and the season’s bounty of fiddleheads. Asparagus is a natural, perfect addition. But I don’t expect most of my readers to have ready access to these wild foods, and cultivated substitutes are absolutely wonderful here.

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Potato Crusted Halibut with Spring Vegetables

I’ve suggested spinach as a substitute for the fiddleheads. Frozen or fresh peas or artichoke hearts would be equally good.

Serves 2

For the fish:
¾ lb. skinless halibut, cut into two pieces
2 tbs. softened butter
1 cup good quality potato chips
¼ cup toasted, salted almonds
¼ cup panko (gluten free are fine)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°. Use a teaspoon of the butter to grease an 8 inch baking dish or pie pan.

Season the fish liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. If you have time, do this a few hours ahead of preparation and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Place the potato chips and almonds in the bowl of a small food processor, and grind until fine crumbs. Add the panko, and process to mix.

Rub the fish with the remaining butter and place the filets in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the fish is just firm to pressure.

For the vegetables:
½ lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
½ lb. fiddlehead ferns or spinach
½ lb. morels or other wild or cultivated mushrooms
wild or cultivated chives or scallions, minced
2 tbs. butter
¼ cup white wine
salt and pepper, to taste

Sauté the mushrooms in the butter for a few minutes, then add the other vegetables and continue to sauté until they are almost cooked through. Add the wine and cook over high heat for a minute or two more. Add the chives or scallions.

Serve the vegetables in shallow bowls, topped with the fish.

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Blog notes: Happy birthday to Brian, who is hiking Everest today, on the day he turns 24!

If you are local or within traveling distance, please join us this Friday, May 5, 5-8:00 pm for our annual Empty Bowls Event at the WVSD High School. I’ve unloaded 3 dozen or so new bowls and they will be available at the event. Come choose a bowl, enjoy some soup, and help feed the hungry!

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Posted in dinner, entertaining, entree, fish, seafood, dinner, gluten free, healthy, main, party, Uncategorized, vegetable | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spinach Stuffed Portobellos

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I fell in love on Wednesday. Twice.

Sitting opposite a lovely new friend at lunch, I felt a tiny presence at the left side of my chair. I looked down into a radiant smile from the toddler who had ventured from his mama’s side on a nearby couch. He wandered back and forth from me to mom several times before deciding to climb up and sit with me.

I gave him a little boost, and he turned so he could see his mother as he settled his back against my side, and relaxed against me. Instantly, I was transported back a quarter century, the sense memory of my own children’s tiny bodies next to mine. Sweet peace for my tender heart.

That evening, Bob and I took our after dinner walk and saw a sudden movement on a hillock beside our road. A tiny kitten? The little animal turned and sat down, looked at us intently, checking us out as we focused back. Fox. We watched each other for long seconds and then the baby “spoke,” a sound I can only describe as a bark. The vocalization was answered from within the hill. Mama? Our new friend quickly returned to his den, but we’ve seen him several times since. We are entranced, spending a lot of time near the burrow, hoping for another encounter with “our” baby.

I’m sure, like me, your heart opens in spring, making room for new life and new love. The recipe I share with you this week is loaded with fresh, bright flavor and plenty of green. It is based on a recipe from Cook’s Country, with a few of my characteristic modifications. Enjoy it and fall in love!!

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Spinach Stuffed Portobellos

Serves 4 as an appetizer or side, 2 as a main course.

Remove the gills from the mushrooms with a spoon. Gluten free panko work well here.

4 medium portobellos, gills removed
2 baby or 1 small leeks, cleaned and diced
1 ½ cups baby spinach
¾ cup panko
zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ oz. feta, crumbled
2 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh mint for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 450°. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Brush the mushrooms with 1 tsp. of the oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and place them, gill side down, on the sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and turn the mushrooms over.

While the mushrooms roast, saute the leeks in the remaining oil over med-high heat until they begin the soften, about 5 minutes. Add the panko and continue to cook until the crumbs begin to brown, about 4 more minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, 2 or 3 minutes. Off heat, add the zest and cheese, and stir to combine.

Divide the stuffing mixture between the mushroom caps. Return to oven and bake for 7-8 minutes, until the stuffing is well browned and piping hot. Serve with or without mint.

Blog note: Aren’t these new white porcelain dishes gorgeous? Perfect for food styling! Find some of them on Propped!

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Posted in appetizer, entree, gluten free, healthy, lunch, main, main course, roasted, supper, Uncategorized, vegetarian | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment