Smoky Chili Non Carne

Serves 8 hungry adults

Since the mid-eighties I have always been faithful to a vegetarian chili recipe from an old Jane Brody cookbook. The list of spices in her recipe initially seemed daunting, but the resulting chili was always full of complex flavor. This chili recipe is my adaptation of her recipe. Don’t let the long list of spices be a deterrent. This chili contains no meat, thus the name non carne. Smoked paprika (even McCormick brand sells this spice) adds a beautiful red color and sweet smoky flavor. This is a “spicy” chili, with a deep, rich flavor, not a “hot” chile pepper-type of chili. I prefer to build the flavor, and then if anyone wants their chili “hot”, all they have to do is shake their favorite red pepper sauce over the top of their serving.

1/2 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced thin

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons mild chili powder

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons thyme

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Generous pinch ground cloves

Generous pinch ground allspice

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey

One (6-ounce can) vegetable juice (3/4 cup)

One (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juice

One (15-ounce) can chick peas, drained and rinsed

One (15-ounce) can red beans, drained and rinsed

One (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

3 cups cooked brown rice

Chopped avocado for garnish

Sliced green onions for garnish


In a Dutch oven or shallow soup pot, cook the onion and carrot in the olive oil until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, measure out the spices and mix together the garlic, chili powder, cumin, thyme, smoked paprika, salt, coriander, cloves, and allspice. Add the spice mixture to the onions and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the maple syrup or honey, vegetable juice, tomatoes, chick peas, red beans, black beans, and the broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and for 30 minutes. Serve in a bowl over a portion of cooked brown rice. Garnish with chopped avocado and sliced green onions.…

Superfoods in A Super Diet
Superfoods in A Super Diet

 

According to the American Dietetic Association ,”superfoods are purported to have more significant health benefits than other types of food because they provide high amounts of one or more beneficial components”.

The concept of “superfoods” has captured much interest in the press. I think we all know we can’t live on one food alone, but a diet filled with wholesome foods serves us best nutritionally and forms the foundation for good health.

For healthy adults and children the goal is to promote health and reduce overall risk for some chronic diseases. Health and prevention is a two part process. First, eat a “super diet”. Include many of the foods below on a regular basis. (There are many, many “superfoods”. This is only a small representation.) Second, get up off your can (rather than reading blogs?) and move. Physical activity is key to healthy muscles, bones, and bodies. Now for a short list of some of my favorite superfoods. Note: phytochemicals are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants and antioxidants are a compound that prevents free radical damage to cells in the body. You’ll see these terms sprinkled liberally throughout the list.

Avocados
Avocados may have a bad reputation for high calories and fat, but most of the fat in this fruit (yes, fruit) is monounsaturated, and avocados are packed with nutrients. Avocados contain about 60 percent more potassium than bananas and contain more vitamin E (which helps prevent muscle damage and reduces inflammation) than most other commonly eaten fruits. Make guacamole, chop it up and put it on top of a bowl of chili, or slice is and serve on a sandwich.

Bananas
A medium-sized banana contains a whopping dose of potassium and, in case you haven’t heard, potassium is one of the body’s most significant minerals, critical for proper cellular and electrical functions. As an electrolyte, potassium actually carries a tiny electrical charge with it throughout the body. It regulates the water and acid balance in blood and tissues and is one of the most important nutrients for normal growth and building muscle. Use in a smoothie, slice and put on a bowl of hot oatmeal, or eat out of hand for a quick snack on the go.

Blueberries
Rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins (the blue color pigment), blueberries promote a healthy urinary tract and enhance night vision. Not to mention the phytochemical lutein and the natural sources of dietary fiber that may reduce the risk of diabetes, circulatory problems, and memory loss. Use frozen blueberries during the winter time when fresh aren’t available. Sprinkle fresh blueberries on spinach salad or make a yogurt parfait.

Broccoli
A readily available vegetable, broccoli boasts high amounts of vitamin C . Part of it’s powerhouse protection is derived from phytochemicals that give your immune system a boost. Use fresh in salads, or cooked in soups, pasta dishes, or cut into spears, sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt and fresh lemon zest.

Dark Chocolate
Now we’re talking. Who knew chocolate was …

Stay Healthy - Cold and Flu Prevention

Cold and flu season is just around the corner. I tend to think positive. I’m not going to get sick this year. Children are the primary carriers of cold and flu viruses and because I spent a lot of time with my three crumb-snatchers I plan to be proactive in prevention. Here are some helpful food, nutrition and cooking ideas to help you stay healthy:

Eat Healthy

For this to happen planning is the key. Pick a day (I like Thursdays) to go grocery shopping. Visit a farmers market if you can sometime during the week or weekend. Plan meals in advance and make extra to take for lunch, or for your kids to take for lunch. I always think it’s just as easy to make soups, stews, and chilis in a double portion and freeze or eat the leftovers. Stick to a menu created around vegetables, fish, grains, poultry, fruit, and smaller quantities of meat – and stay away from processed foods as much as possible. I find this even hard to do, but I try to use as many ingredients in my cooking as I can, not just heat and serve foods.

Eat Immune-boosting Foods

Garlic is antibacterial and antiviral. Turmeric has curcumin, a polyphenol with strong cold and flu-fighting properties. Oregano’s antioxidant activity is due to its high content of phenolic acids and flavonoids. Ginger is spicy and sweats out colds and flu, among many other healing properties. This is only the tip of the iceberg so to speak about the health benefits of food. When used in cooking garlic, turmeric, oregano, and ginger are delicious, not to mention the health benefits from the good foods cooked with these ingredients.

Sleep

A reasonable amount of sleep every night is a must and if at all possible go to bed at about the same time and wake up at the same time. I personally prefer the 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. routine.

Exercise

A very important key to keep your body strong. Strong people are fit and energetic. Make a plan to put on your walking shoes and get outside everyday. When I do that I am successful at walking at least 5 times a week.

Drink Tea

Green, white, or black. So soothing during the chilly days of fall and full of plant-based phytochemicals that enhance health and maybe are even protective against heart disease, bad breath, and osteoporosis.

Take Care of Yourself

Eat well and be well. You deserve to be in peak condition when the cold and flu season hits. The kitchen, and all the wondrous ingredients we have access to, used for creating a delicious meal is the best place to start.…

Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives

Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives is an exciting partnership between Harvard Medical School Osher Institute and the Culinary Institute of America. These prestigious institutions sponsor hands-on workshops bridging nutrition science, health care, and culinary arts. In a nutshell, these folks work tirelessly to promote the kitchen as the center of a medical system for improving the health of society. They believe if they teach people how to cook, and enjoy food in a way that doesn’t leave feelings of deprivation, physically or socially, our medical system and the health of Americans can change for the better. I don’t know about you, but I’m all for the concept of cooking and sharing food as the cornerstone of health care.…

Chestnut Soup

Serves 6

The earthy aroma of chestnuts are synonymous with fall. If fresh chestnuts are not available, and even if they are but you don’t want to fuss with peeling the fresh ones, vacuum-packed chestnuts work perfectly.

1 1/2 pounds fresh chestnuts or 14 ounces vacuum-packed, peeled chestnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 small rib celery, diced
1 leek, white and light green stem only, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
5 cups chicken broth or stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
Pinch ground nutmeg

1. If using vacuum-packed chestnuts, skip to step #2. For fresh chestnuts: Preheat the oven to 400°F, or bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, slice an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Place them on a baking sheet and roast in the pre-heated oven, or boil them until the outer skin begins to curl, 10 to 12 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the outer and inner layers of skin from the chestnuts and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery, leek, and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, thyme, bay leaf, and peeled chestnuts. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes until the chestnuts are soft and can be poked with the tip of a knife or with a fork.

3. Carefully ladle the soup into a blender, in batches if necessary and puree the soup. Add back to the saucepan and stir in the half and half, brandy, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Serve immediately. Can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Reheat just before serving, being careful not to boil.…

See The Bread Masthead...

In August we had the good fortune of vacationing in Northern Michigan – Northport to be exact. This was our second summer vacationing there. We love the fresh water, cool summer air, and the local food and wine scene. We don’t need, nor did we rent, a fancy place to stay, although next time I will look for a cabin/cottage with softer water. Not sure if rustic and soft water are used in the same sentence when it comes to Michigan cabin/cottage rentals, but it’ll sure be worth a look.

My dining companions minus the best male cook I know
Bread from The Stonehouse Bakery
Smoked Trout from Carlson’s
Assorted Fresh Beans
Local Sweet Cherries
Pesto Hummus and Cracked Pepper Cheese
The Spread

Anyway, see the masthead (the photo at the top of the blog) with bread and fork. That’s a loaf of bread from a bakery in Leland, Michigan. I loved that bread, and that fork fed me one of the best local food meals I’ve ever consumed. We sat on the deck of our little green cabin, sipping a chilled bottle of local white wine, eating sweet, drippy cherries and just-blanched green beans, smoked trout from Carlson’s in Leland, Pesto Hummus from Two Redheads in downstate Michigan, and Cracked Black Pepper “Fresh” Cheese from Black Star Farms. It was a stellar ending to a relaxing week. So why am I telling you this at the beginning of November when the beans are gone, the cherries all picked, and we’re home from Michigan? Well for two reasons: I haven’t posted the pictures or told the story before, and I wanted you to know where the photo of the loaf of bread at the top of this blog originated. And I wanted you to know that sometimes the best meals are the simplest, and often only a short drive, or bicycle ride, away. (OK, maybe that’s more than two reasons.)…

Halloween Supper Tips

Forget the hotdogs cut to look like squid or wrapped in crescent roll dough to look like mummys. Make dinner tonight with lots of nutritious bang for the buck and then you might not feel so bad when they fall into bed with a belly full of Snickers and without brushing their teeth.

What my kids need tonight is more nutrition than hotdogs can offer. Here are my trick-or-treat dinner solutions:

1. Have dinner ready earlier than usual. I plan to eat around 5:00 pm. Trick or treat starts at 6:00 in our world and there is always a little pre-trick or treat costume comparison with the neighborhood kids. Maybe I’ll feed them at 4:30.

2. Plan a good source of lean protein – chicken, fish, legumes, turkey breast – and make the kids eat a lot of it. We’re having leftover lentil soup from Tuesday night.

3. Hydrate the kids with about 8 – 10 ounces of low-fat milk or water. Make them use the bathroom before you head out. Don’t let them say, “I don’t have to go”, or else you might be saying “trick-or-treat and can Johnny use your bathroom”?

4. Offer some good sources of fiber, preferably vegetable oriented. I’m making some dip with fresh veggies – carrots, cucumber, and cauliflower pieces. Whole-wheat bread with butter would work well too.

5. Avoid a high-salt, overly processed meal. If you’re night is going to be anything like mine, there will be plently of salt and sugar over the next 24 hours. Candy, chips, and sodas are sure to appear at our neighborhood get together, especially since it’s Friday.…

Bones of Our Supper Menus

Creating a basic weekly outline for supper helps me with my grocery shopping, because my secret to being an active cook, and not a food assembler, is having ingredients in the house. When I think of our upcoming week in terms of these “bones”, I end up cooking meals with more variety. I particularly enjoy Sundays, making an extended amount of time in my kitchen to try or develop a new recipe and perhaps even bake a seasonal dessert. I love the word supper. It’s super! To me, dinner is that meal served on Sunday afternoon.

Monday – Pasta Feast

Tuesday – Legume Creation

Wednesday – Meat/Poultry Night

Thursday – Soup or Fish Extravaganza

Friday – Pizza (mostly homemade, sometimes delivery)

Saturday – Market and evening activities dictate (have I been to a farm market or our city fresh market? Is a babysitter coming? Can we grill out? )

Sunday – New Recipe and Dessert …

I'm Not At My Table

For the next several days, my kitchen table will be filled with food, laughter, spilled milk, and stories about the weekend and school – but not me. The table is short one person. This is all for good reason. I’m in Chicago, attending the FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo) of the American Dietetic Association. This annual gathering of food and nutrition experts is quite impressive and I never leave feeling uninspired. Dietitians from every walk of life, keeping abreast of hot nutrition topics. It’s so fun. The biggest give aways at the trade show, from what I can tell, are reusable grocery bags. There’s a lot of “green” talk this weekend. Frito-Lay is causing quite a stir for their talk of sustainability, but some wonder if they really espouse the tenants of the organic movement in the potatoes they use in their chips. Much to chew on, so to speak.

I’m so excited for another reason.  I just attended a session about Healthy Kitchens, an initiative where cooking (YES, my beloved cooking), mindfulness, sharing food and good nutrition was presented as an all-encompassing way to prevent and treat chronic disease. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. More to come on this topic. I might just have to open a healthy kitchen of my own where I teach some real life cooking skills to those at the most risk (children and college students).

I just finished looking for some lunch. The $10.00 tuna sandwich at Au Bon Pain wasn’t doing it for me, so I think I’ll head into the trade show and down a cup of yogurt. Probiotics are all the rage.  Then I’ll look for a chair, relax a bit, and think about a time when more kitchens become the focus of treating and preventing chronic illness.

I’ll be honest. I miss my kitchen at home, but know all young eaters there are in the hands of the best male cook I know. I even heard that last night there was a marshmallow roast after dinner in that said kitchen. Now those are some good times. Making memories with food. I hope the stars were out.…

Why Do I Share "What We Ate This Week"?

For the past few years I’ve kept a log of all the food I cook. Yes, I write everything down in a little notebook. Not that high tech. When I create a new dish without a recipe I write it down. When I prepare a new dish with a new recipe I write it down, along with the source of the recipe. Whether I make Red Beans and Rice, Barbecue Chicken, or Blueberry Muffins, everything is documented in the book. Now my method of organization uses this blog as an electronic list. Maybe it might inspire you to try something new. Maybe it might make you mutter to yourself, “she doesn’t really cook all that”, or “wonder what the kids eat?”. Maybe I’ll reach a point where I can provide recipes, or shopping lists, to go along with the menus. I’m a long way from reaching that point, so for now I’ll just share the menus. Use as you wish, or not. Thank you for your support.…

Shameless Plug
Shameless Plug

 

I guess since this is my blog I can write about any darn thing I want to. It’s hard though. I grew up in a large, estrogen-dominated family where drawing attention to ourselves was not encouraged. Walk in line. Follow the pack.

I’ll break from my upbringing for a moment to shout out about a recent accomplishment of mine and of my friend Shirley Corriher (and her dear husband, Arch). We worked tirelessly this summer finishing BakeWise, a highly anticipated baking companion to Shirley’s first cookbook CookWise. Shirley as the author, Arch as her live-in editor and nitpicker, and lil’ ole me as their freelance editor (for Scribner – thanks Beth Wareham!) did everything humanly possible to whip the manuscript into shape before turning it over to our precise copy editor, Suzanna Fass. Next, we poured over every word in the designed pages making sure that what we wanted said was in fact, well, said.

My editing work (all via telephone) with the Corrihers was a pleasure. What a sweet honor to help Shirley release BakeWise the world. Now I need to get myself down to Atlanta to celebrate at their favorite eatin’ spot. “Great day in the morning, BakeWise is out!”

BakeWises official publication date is Tuesday, October 28th. I’ll be in Chicago but, despite the forecast for chilly rain and wind, I can hardly wait to make a mad dash into a bookstore to view a copy of BakeWise “on the shelf”. I have a bound copy right here on my desk. I’ve seen it already – cover to cover, inside, outside and upside down, and it’s a beautiful thing. But, until I see the fruits of our labor sitting among other cookbooks it’s still a little hard to believe.

Amazon is shipping copies of BakeWise. If nothing else, visit Amazon and read the reviews. Next time you’re in a bookstore pick up a copy. Look at the fabulous photographs. Flip through the pages. Read a recipe or two. Can you smell the brownies?

OK, enough of that. Time to get back in line. I’ll return again and talk about something other than myself, and my friend Shirley.…

Flat Iron Steak with Brown Sugar Rub

Serves 6

A simple rub, using a unique combination of readily available ingredients, enhances this beefy tender steak. Be sure not to overcook, and it’s best to let the steak rest before slicing. If it’s too cold to grill outdoors, cook the steam under the broiler (an upside down grill – who knew).


One 2-pound flat iron steak

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Lay the steak(s) in a shallow pan or baking dish. Mix the brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper and salt together in a small bowl. Evenly distribute half of the rub over the top of the steak and rub and press into the meat. Flip the meat over and repeat with the remaining rub. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Place the steak on the grill and cook for 6 minutes. Flip and cook for about 4 more minutes for medium-rare, 6 more minutes for medium and 8 more minutes for medium-well or well done. Remove from the grill to a platter and cover with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes. Slice into thin or thick slices as desired.

Take A Gamble On A New Steak

It’s a sure bet that as we speak a few transformations are taking place in my kitchen: from eating outdoors to indoors; from less fresh tomatoes to more frozen and canned; from the kids eating less at home to more at school; from using the grill less and the oven more; and from flank or New York strips steaks to a flat iron steak. Yes, even the beef I cook is in flux.

Many of our family dinners could be labeled “vegetarian”; no meat appears on our plates. That being said, about once a month I like to cook a decent piece of steak. (I think that makes my family a bunch of “flexitarians”.) Nutritionally, beef provides a respectable quantity of zinc, iron, and B12, nutrients everyone in my family needs. (For more information about beef nutrition visit the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.) I’d argue that beef steaks when sautéed for fajitas, or flame-cooked for a simple entree, are one of the quickest and easiest cuts of beef to cook at home. According to my calculations, and the reviews of my customers, I can cook a steak dinner that rivals any restaurant for a lot less dollars.

For many years flank steak was my go-to cut. Although generally leaner (and somewhat tougher), flank steak was also typically less expensive than other high end cuts of steak. If I bought a nice flank steak all I had to do was marinate, cook, and slice; I was never disappointed no matter how dressed up, or unadorned, we ate it. If I wanted a steak bursting with beefy flavor, that was inherently tender (albeit less lean), I would splurge and buy a New York Strip making this special occasion steak a most appealing choice for its simplicity and flavor.

Last year I read an article in The New York Times about the effects of rising beef prices on restaurant menus. Many chefs discussed how they were incorporating new cuts of beef into their menus to achieve a significant savings in their food costs. The article described the success many chefs experienced by using a cut of beef called a flat iron steak.

A flat iron steak comes from a modified version of a top blade roast, a cut of beef from the shoulder of the cow. For years, butchers were faced with a problem – what to do with the blade roast – a relatively tender and flavorful cut of meat. The problem was it had a tough piece of connective tissue running down the center, something cooks did not want to deal with. Leave it to researchers from Nebraska to devise a method of cutting the blade roast to remove the connective tissue, leaving a large, flat piece of beef from the “top” of the roast. This top blade steak (or flat iron steak) weighs about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, is evenly thick all the way across, and resembles a triangular-shaped iron (yes, like an iron used to

Beer Batter Bread

With the leaves turning yellow, and the air predicted to turn crisp, my thoughts turn to cool-weather food. I enjoy making “dump and stir” savory breads almost as much as taking the time to make focaccia or ciabatta. Made with dark, rich stout this bread pairs well with a hearty stew or soup. Use a lighter lager or ale to serve with salad. Delicious either way.

Makes one 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the loaf pan

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 (12-ounce) bottle lager, ale, or stout, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush one 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan with some of the butter.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the beer and 2 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter, stirring just until combined. (The batter will be somewhat lumpy.)

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, then invert onto the rack to cool until warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.…

Quick White Clam Sauce

I like to serve this quick and easy sauce over a long, thin pasta such as linguine or spaghetti. Fresh parsley, either curly or flat-leaf Italian, introduces beautiful color and a shot of fresh herb flavor. The finely chopped, or grated, carrots cook quickly while adding a hint of sweetness and more fresh color.

Serves 4

Two 6-ounce cans chopped clams

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 cup chopped green onion or shallot

4 carrots, peeled, and shredded or chopped fine

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the chopped onion and the grated carrot. Cook stirring until soft about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for 2 more minutes until the garlic is fragrant and softened. Stir in the white wine, increase the heat to medium high and cook until the wine is reduced and slightly thickened about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil, and the clam juice. Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 more minutes to thicken.Stir in the chopped parsley, red pepper flakes and reserved clams. Heat through about 1 minute and season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. Serve immediately over fresh, hot pasta.

Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies
Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 package (3.4 ounce) instant vanilla pudding mix

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Sift together the flour and baking soda, set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Beat in the pudding mix until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop cookies in rounded teaspoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes until the edges are just brown.

 

The Cookie Contest
The Cookie Contest

Every year Hixson hosts a cookie contest at their employee picnic. This year my oldest son and I judged the contest, along with a handful of other interested people who were willing to wade through tasting about a baker’s dozen homemade delights. Tuxedo Bites, Lemon Squares, Nutkins, Thumbprint, Old-fashioned Peanut Butter, Soft Chocolate Chip, Zebra Kisses, Salted Peanut Crisps, and Chocolate Peanut Chip lined the old wooden bar at the boat club. “Take a bite of each and vote on your top three favorites”, were our judging instructions.

Heading into the competition I was fully prepared to vote for something different, an unusual cookie that tickled my taste buds. I did what I was told (typical middle child) and tasted bite after bite. For some reason, despite the flavor contrast in the Salted-Peanut Crisps, or the nutty sweetness of the Nutkins, I kept returning to the Soft Chocolate Chip cookies. The distribution of chips tasted heavenly and the edges were slightly crisp, with a just-baked-soft center. I cast my vote, my son followed suit, and the winners were announced: Tuxedo Bites, Lemon Squares and….. Nutkins. My beloved softies sat scorned on their oblong, yellow platter.

A few days later a recipe book with all cookie contest recipes arrived in my kitchen. I furiously flipped through the pages dying to know what secret ingredient created the just-baked softness in my favorite of the cookie contest. The ingredient list seemed perfectly normal: flour, baking soda, butter, brown and white sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, instant vanilla pudding mix. What, instant vanilla pudding mix in the cookies?.

You must know, if you’re not already aware, I tend to be somewhat of a purist when it comes to baking and even cooking. You know my type – real butter, pure vanilla extract, large fresh eggs. If I’m going to bake, I’m going to bake with simple, fresh ingredients. No “just add vanilla pudding mix” baking for me.

The next few times I shopped I neglected to buy pudding mix. Then my youngest son was prescribed to wear a retainer, glued into his mouth, for one week. In a search for soft food and convenience I picked up a few boxes of pudding mix. Then I remembered the cookies and the recipe. The deal was sealed.

The cookies turned out even better than I expected. The slightly-crisp edges and just-baked soft centers were just as I remembered.

In a recent New York Times article, “Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret”, David Leite makes a quest to discover the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. On his journey he discusses cookie recipe nuances with pastry chefs, bakery owners, and food scientists (including my friend, Shirley Corriher), and makes a strong case for canonizing Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Inn, creator of the iconic chocolate chip cookie. In the end he presents a recipe that uses bread flour and a 36-hour refrigeration for the dough. Deterred by leaving the dough in …

First Cup

I think at least one of my sisters, maybe all 6 of them, and perhaps my brother would agree – the first cup of coffee in the morning is the best.

Part of my evening ritual, while I’m soaking the pots from dinner in hot, soapy water, is to set up my automatic coffee maker for the morning. Dump old coffee grounds and  wet filter in the compost container. Rinse the insulated carafe. Situate a new, dry brown paper filter in the basket and fill with ground coffee. No I don’t measure, I just hope for the best. Pour cold water into the tank. Make sure it’s “set” to brew at 5:45 a.m. Brush teeth. Go to bed. Now I can’t wait to wake up.

The smell of coffee in the morning is rivaled only by the smell of bacon frying the a skillet, or the smell of a baby after a bath.

The first sip of coffee is rivaled by, well, nothing. It’s my signal that a new day has begun.…

Red Beans and Rice with Chili Vinaigrette

Serves 6 to 8

This recipe has been part of my repertoire for over 20 years and I’ve made it many, many times. It travels well to a potluck and tastes best served at room temperature – and that’s a bonus if the weather is warm.

 

3 cups cooked brown or basmati rice

1 1/2 cups cooked light red kidney beans, or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 cups cooked dark red kidney beans, or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 cups frozen or canned corn kernels

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup chopped green onion, mostly green part

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

 

In a large bowl combine the rice, beans, corn, red bell pepper and green onion. Toss to mix. In a small bowl combine the oil, vinegar, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin and salt. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is well blended. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature, tossing occasionally for up to 4 hours before serving, or cover and refrigerate up to 3 days.