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.

 

 

Where Does Your Food Come From?

September 30, 2008 – Associated Press- A retail labeling law for fresh meats, fruits and vegetables will be implemented over the next six months on an interim basis to give all parties time to adjust and comply with the regulations. Federal officials said Tuesday that consumers will be able to tell where those products come from by looking at labels, stickers, placards and stamps placed on them in grocery stores. Farm groups have long pushed for country-of-origin labels. Meat from animals that are born, raised and slaughtered in the United States must be designated as such. Another label will spell out multiple countries of origin, such as “Product of U.S., Mexico and Canada.”

Value Meals - Part II
Value Meals - Part II

So….. would the world come to an end if we had to start eating out at restaurants less and eating at home more, consuming less pre-packaged and processed food and more food we cook ourselves, buying less coffee at the local caffeine filling station and making our own coffee (or tea) at home, eating less drive through food that’s all the same and more of our own sandwich creations from our own cutting board.

In the end wouldn’t acts such as this help – our budgets, our waistlines and our families?  I can’t quit thinking about a world where we used our kitchens more for what they’re intended – cooking, sharing food, wiping up the counter tops and doing it all again at the next meal. Isn’t that value-added?…

Pinching Food Pennies

There’s no denying it – we’re all feeling the pinch at the supermarket, as well as at the gas pump. Our hard-earned dollars are buying less milk, less bread and much to my dismay, less ice cream. (I’m annoyed, by the way, about the reduction in size of many ice cream cartons from 1/2 gallon to 1 3/4 or 1 1/2 quarts. Very sneaky – keep the price the same but reduce the package size.)

This past May, The Food Marketing Institute at their annual meeting released a report about grocery shopping trends. This year, unlike past years, economic concerns are compelling more of us to cook at home. In general, the report shows that we’re eating out less in restaurants and eating more leftovers.

I have to admit, I’ve developed a pretty steady routine for my grocery shopping. So, in response to rising food prices, I’ll share a few tips on how I save money at the grocery.

1. At least one day before I shop I make time to create a very complete menu that includes all the food our family will eat during the upcoming week: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, bakes sales and if necessary, party food, special occasion meals, or food for a potluck at work. I glance through the weekly ad for my supermarket, and if pork tenderloin or chicken breasts are on sale I work those into my menu. I also take advantage of 10/$10 specials, but only buy 1 or 2 at $1.00/each.

2. Using my own preprinted shopping list, customized for my most frequently visited market, (a hold over from my personal chef days), I mark every food item I need to buy. If I’m preparing a new recipe, I include all ingredients for the recipe. I ask the family if there’s anything we need because invariably someone has emptied the peanut butter jar and I haven’t noticed. I make the menu as complete as possible because my success depends on its thoroughness. In my opinion saving money at the grocery is just like painting. It’s 3/5 preparation.

3. Next I survey the refrigerator (especially the produce bin), pantry and freezer to see what I might already have on hand. The freezer, pantry and produce drawer can become like a large black hole. Unless I’m vigilant, mine have a tendency to suck up ingredients that are bought, but never cooked. Food in the freezer dehydrates (or becomes freezer burnt) when stored for an excessive amount of time. Freezer burn does not jeopardize the safety of the food, but does negatively affect the quality. Food and ingredients in the pantry can go stale and may be prone to attract pests. Produce in the drawer, out of sight, wilts and spoils.

4. One of the most effect ways to save money (and control impulse shopping) is to limit my trips to the store. I pick a day and time and try to shop at that same day/time every week. Typically, I shop early on …

Value Meals

Food marketers are talking about value today in response to the falling stock market. Instead of attempts to get people to buy fleur de sel caramels, or high-end frozen desserts, we’re being lured to the simple and less expensive – Kraft American Singles and Campbell’s Tomato Soup anyone?

I suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot about value over the next several months. You know what I think is the best value? Eating at home. I’ve always felt that way and probably always will. When I eat out it’s not because there’s no food in the house. When I eat out it’s because I want to take a small break from my kitchen and relax while eating someone elses cooking for a change. Then I see the bill and pay the tip.

Cooking at home is a good value. Tonight for dinner I made a batch of white clam sauce and served it over whole-wheat spaghetti. Chopped steamed broccoli with lemon zest on the side. Glass of local Pinot Grigio. Quite a delicious, inexpensive meal. And before I get off my soapbox, make your coffee at home – it’s SOOO much less expensive.…

Nina's Coca-Cola Cake

Makes One 13×9-inch cake

 

Cake ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup Coca-Cola

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Frosting Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

6 tablespoons Coca-Cola

1 pound (1 box) confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

 

Grease and flour a 13 x 9 x 2-inch cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir together the flour, sugar and baking soda in a small bowl. In a large saucepan, melt and stir together, until well blended, the vegetable oil, 1 stick butter, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, and 1 cup Coca-Cola. Stir in the flour and sugar, mixing well. Add the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the cake is set in the middle, and springs back when lightly pressed with your index finger. Cool on a rack. The cake can be frosted while still warm, if desired.

Meanwhile, prepare frosting by mixing and bringing to a slight boil, 1 stick butter, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, and 6 tablespoons Coca-Cola. Remove from heat and immediately stir in confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla until smooth. Stir in nuts. The frosting may look thin, but it will set up when cooled. Immediately pour frosting on cake, and quickly spread the frosting with a spatula or knife. Allow cake to cool for several hours before serving.

 

Coca-Cola Cake

Warren grew up in a very brand loyal family. The canned soda served at his boyhood home was always a Coca-Cola product. No Pepsi or RC need apply, Coke was it. So why was I surprised when I asked him if I should make a pan of brownies for a picnic, and he said, “No, how about a Coca-Cola Cake.” Coca-Cola Cake? I’ve made many sheet cakes, but not this one. Quickly, I dialed the phone, and Nina read over the phone her trusty recipe for Coca-Cola cake. The recipe went together easily, and resulted in a moist and chocolately cake with fudge-like frosting. Perfect for picnics, barbecues or a pot-luck, this cake travels well, and fills the bill for a summer-time cake, of the most brand loyal kind.…

Kentucky Produce
Kentucky Produce

 

It was the perfect weather morning to go to the Farmer’s Market. Around 8 am I took off with my trio of helpers, and we arrived very soon thereafter at the Covington Farmer’s Market in Main Strasse. We scored a bunch of stunning cut sunflowers, cilantro (that hadn’t yet bolted), a few zucchini, green beans, green bell peppers and peaches (from Georgia). Since I really wanted tomatoes, we next drove out to the Boone County Farmer’s Market. The tomatoes were ripe, and according to one farmer, “flying off his table”. I purchased some pink pear, yellow tiny cherry, and smaller red and yellow tomatoes, blackberries, okra, a purple bell pepper and some dwarf perinneals for my garden. We’re having a dinner party tomorrow evening. I can safely say “homegrown” Kentucky produce will shine. Roasted vegetables with fresh mozzarella over rigatoni, fresh bean salad, black bean and corn salsa, and a peach and blackberry crostata are just a few dishes I have in mind.…