The Possibilities That Different Holds
The Possibilities That Different Holds

Yesterday afternoon my oldest son came home right after school for the last time. Sports are over and today he goes to work. Next week Senior exams and the following week he graduates from high school. It’s been an exhilarating 12-year run of elementary school, middle school, high school. He’s excited about his college plans and so am I.

Yesterday was my last, “Hello, are you hungry?” with his backpack slung over his shoulder and his car keys twirling on a UC lanyard at the end of his finger. Yesterday was our last chat about his school day while he lives under this roof.  Yesterday was the last time he “fills me in” on something on his mind from a long day at school. I knew this day was coming.

In preparation I made one of his favorite snacks: guacamole. I also bought Oreos and brewed iced tea and made simple syrup for his sweet tea. He gave me a hug, ate some chips and guacamole, and then left to meet his friends to watch a soccer game at a local Irish pub. I smiled when he left. He’s happy and optimistic. I am too, but honestly the happiness comes in waves, between watery peeks through my eyeglasses.

He’s been with me through numerous cookbook projects. He tasted and commented on just about everything I’ve ever cooked and baked for our family over the past 18 years, as well as on every recipe I’ve developed, tested, or prepared for cookbook projects. By choice, my work blurs the lines between  him as family and as recipe taste tester. Between my office and our kitchen. Between being his mom and meeting work deadlines. Between writing my own books and articles and reading and commenting on his written work.

I knew in 2003 when he marched off into his 1st grade classroom with his lunchbox in hand, packed with an olive-nut cream cheese sandwich and apple slices,  that this day would come. I also knew deep down in my gut that he and his sister and brother were the reason  why I had to blend my family and my work – my test kitchen with their home kitchen.

As a result he’s grown up exposed to some tasty food experiences, wonderful cookbook authors, and fun book tour events for various cookbook projects including my own. Little did he know as he grew taller, stronger, and wiser that I would grow up too. Older yes, but most importantly appreciative of the times when his world revolved around our family and home with my test kitchen in the middle.

This fall, the after-school hours will be different. I won’t have to cut three avocados when I make guacamole. Only two. We won’t buzz through a pack of Oreos so quickly, and the simple syrup will last a bit longer. I’m not sad as much as I am stunned. It’s truly been something to watch a curious, talkative, boy turn into a smart, articulate, well-dressed young …

Paying Attention the Wonder In Our Lives
Paying Attention the Wonder In Our Lives

Over the summer, I developed a habit of listening to audio books using the Audible app on my iPhone or iPad. Yes, I do still enjoy reading physical books, particularly at night, but I made the decision to use my time to catch up on some books I’ve been wanting to read instead of listening to the radio or watching the news while driving, folding laundry, or working in the kitchen.

One book I listened to recently was, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Ariana Huffington. In her book, Huffington encourages “readers” (or in my case “listeners”) to develop their “third metric” and to work to redefine success in their lives “beyond money and power”.

One concept presented that resonated with me was creating, or recognizing, wonder in our daily lives. Huffington asks readers to pay attention to the small details that often go unnoticed or under-appreciated as we move through our day. She argues that we’ve gotten so busy in our quest for career advancement and moving ourselves, and our children, up the ladder of success that we’ve lost our sense of wonder.

So, I decided to be more intentional and to pay attention to the small details of things that delighted me. First, the faithfulness of my pet dog “Maggie” – her favorite place is in the same room with me. Not on my lap, but nearby, ready to give me a tail wag or a look in the eye. I also noticed the beauty of the handmade Shaker broom one of my sisters gave me as a gift. It’s the perfect tool for sweeping up Maggie’s hair and the ever-present crumbs of food on the kitchen floor. Made here in Kentucky, in the traditional Shaker style, it’s all a broom should be. And, finally at dinner last night, I wondered at the eyes of my 17-year-old son as he smiled and told me about how great his senior year in high school was going.

Little did I know before I read Huffington’s book that Arianna Huffington and I share the same birthday, smack dab in the middle of the summer. According to Huffington this would be no coincidence. For when we look at the world through eyes of wonder we realize there are no coincidences. It’s just up to us to open our eyes to our own well-being, wisdom, and wonder, and to not brush off coincidences as mere chance, but instead, to see them for what they are – a gift of wonder in our lives.

If you’d like to read the book: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder

And here’s a link to the Audible audio-version of the book for your listening pleasure: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder

Cookbook author and culinary dietitian Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors in the process of

Limit Time to Make Time
Limit Time to Make Time

At the beginning of July we took a trip to the beach. We live in a land-locked part of Kentucky so we drove 11 1/2 hours to dip our toes in salt water. When we travel by car such a distance we pull out of the driveway at “o-dark-thirty” with the hope of arriving at our destination before supper time. This trip, to a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina, was a new vacation spot for us. The island was beautiful and our side trips to Charleston, SC fun. We even ate at HUSK with Chef Sean Brock at the helm and Stephen Colbert sat at the table right next to ours. Other good news was that my ATT iPhone didn’t have good service much of the time. (You’ve seen the maps.) Most of the time instead of bars I saw the words “no service”. So what’s a girl to do other than enjoy the time disconnected?I’ll tell you what I did: I spent time watching the sunrise, took morning bike rides with the best male cook I know, read the daily newspaper, worked the daily crossword puzzle and Sudoku, sat under a large red umbrella on the beach, splashed in the ocean with my kids, and floated on a raft in the pool. These activities are what this vacation was made of. It’s an understatement to say I enjoyed my time away from the normal routine of home, office, computer, and smart phones.

We’re home now and the iPhone has full bars and service, but I’m trying to look differently at how I spend my time. I’m limiting my time at the computer, limiting my time poking around on my iPhone and my Kindle, and limiting the time I sit down to write. And guess what? I feel more productive than I felt before I left for vacation. I think for me by limiting my time, I make more time, if that makes sense. Seems counter-intuitive, but with more focus and limited time the work seems to get done quicker. Or maybe it was just the time off work?

With this vacation in mind I think I’ll add a one-speed bicycle to my Christmas list. Then I can mosey around the neighborhood Pee-Wee-Herman-style recreating one of the simple enjoyments of my vacation. I’ll enjoy filling the time I’m creating by not spending unlimited periods of time thinking I’m being productive with my electronic devices in hand and my computer screen in view.

Hope you’re having a great summer and that you are taking some time to enjoy your favorite people, places, and simple enjoyments!
Down Time?
Down Time?

The weather here in Kentucky has been sort of warmer over the past few days. This morning we even had some fog. When I returned from taking my son to high school I noticed there were 3 newspapers laying on our front walk. Three, count ’em, three papers. I walked over, picked them up, and brought them in the house. I wondered why we subscribed if we’re not taking the time to read them, much less bring them in the house, but know that it’s important to get the daily paper. Why? We like to work the Jumble, read the Dinette Set cartoon, review the obituaries, and catch up on the local news. It keeps me in touch with what’s going on outside my house.

After all 3 newspapers were safely inside, I  took off my coat, and did what I do every morning: start a load of laundry, clean up the kitchen, and make myself a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of green tea. After I eat my breakfast my work day begins. Today I start like every other day with 3 tasks before me. One was updating my blog, so here I am. The other two revolve around plans for my upcoming cookbook coaching program called Cookbook Camp. The other doing some work for one of my clients. No matter how hard I try, I keep thinking about the next few weeks and how I look forward to spending time with my family over the upcoming Christmas holiday. The Best Male Cook is busy at work too, but if all goes well he’ll be take vacation time the week after Christmas. The kids trickle out of school for their vacations starting next week. I also look forward to seeing my sisters and brother over the Christmas holiday, and their growing children. We gather for a meal and white-elephant gift exchange the day after Christmas and it’s always full of laughs and wonder about what’s in the box I’m about to open.

Down time is  good for me. I get to enjoy my work days without huge looming deadlines. Surprisingly, I still cook a lot, but we’re trying some new foods. The YoungAprons want to learn how to make, cream puffs and have a chocolate fondue party. I’m going to make some different Christmas cookies this year, although I always make a batch of Oven-Baked Chex Mix which is still the most popular recipe and most-visited post on this blog.

 …

Goodbye Dish Pan Hands
Goodbye Dish Pan Hands

It’s safe to say that because I spend a lot of time in my kitchen, I also spend a lot of time with my hands immersed in hot, sudsy water. For many years I lived with the consequences – dry knuckles, split and chipped nails, and the constant chore of drying my hands after each dip in dish pan.

Several years ago one of my personal chef clients introduced me to these blue gloves. It was these very gloves that helped me say goodbye to dishpan hands. This sweet lady had hired me to cook for her several times before and after she had hip surgery. During one of these cooking sessions she insisted that I try on her gloves as she watched me scrubbing my stainless steel baking pan with my little green scrub pad.

I never could wear gloves when I washed dishes until I wore her True Blue gloves. Other gloves didn’t fit right and quite frankly they made my hands sweat. I didn’t feel like I could grip anything I was washing, and the gloves were always made from thin, smelly latex. But not these blue gloves. I love, I mean LOVE my pair of blue gloves. They are thick, machine-washable, cotton-lined, and so easy to put on and wear. They allow me to wash my dishes in really, really hot water, and the fingers are textured so it’s easy to grip the items I’m washing.

So, if you’re still being asked “What do you want for Christmas?” put a pair of these True Blue Gloves on your list. They come in different sizes, and some colors other than blue, so plan accordingly. And did I say I love these gloves. My hands thank me. My dishes thank me. My pots and pans thank me. My French manicures even thank me. Oh la la.

(Disclaimer: I am not paid to offer this promotion.)…

GreenCat Wisdom
GreenCat Wisdom

In mid-December my youngest son volunteered to bring home a classroom pet during the Christmas break. On the Tuesday before Christmas, when he was dismissed from school, I found myself loading not only his backpack into our van, but also a bird cage wrapped in a soft white blanket. Inside the cage were two birds – Shortbread, a cream-colored finch, and Tiger, her gray sister. No more than 3 inches tall, the finches spent the better part of the Christmas holiday in our family room. They chirped and ate seemingly unaware that the environment outside their cage had changed. When we talked they flitted around and tweeted and when all was quiet they were quiet too.

When our cat, May May, discovered the finches I think she thought her Christmas gifts had arrived. For the remainder of the holiday she sat by the birds, patted their cage with her paw, waiting for one tiny chink in the bird-cage armor. She never left the birds’ side except to eat, drink out of the toilets, and take a romp in her litter box. I was concerned when we left the house, so to be sure Shortbread and Tiger were safe we put their cage in another room and closed the door. Otherwise, we kept a watchful eye on the birds. When the holiday break was over I whispered a silent thank you when the birds made their way back to school and the cat vs. bird show down was over. I must admit I was amazed at our cat, if for nothing else, for her persistence. Nature’s instinct to catch the birds created a focus I hadn’t seen before in her and she had one goal in mind – get the birds.

With the recent completion of my cookbook I feel like I’ve been stuck in a homogenous food rut filled with a repertoire of meals for which I need no recipes or cookbook: spaghetti, oven-fried chicken, and potato soup. This year I plan to persist and make food from some new cookbooks I’ve bought, but as I described in a previous post  I also plan to keep better track of my receipts, read at night with my older children, and maybe even set up an aquarium. More importantly, I’ll do my best to persist in the pursuit of these endeavors even if I feel the odds are against me. Similar to our cat’s goal to catch those darn birds, my goals will also require day-in and day-out persistence. At the end of 2011 if I meet any of my goals I’ll have my cat to thank. For in a strange sort of way she taught me something –to persist. To keep trying in spite of the obstacles that seemingly stand in the way.…

Mary's Bluegrass Pie
Mary's Bluegrass Pie

I haven’t slept well for the past several nights for two reasons. First, my 84-year-old aunt Mary, and the author of this recipe, is in the hospital. She is pretty sick with a bout of pneumonia and could potentially be in the hospital during what was always one of her favorite days to celebrate, The Kentucky Derby. It’s sad to see someone I care about weaken and grow sick, especially someone who gave of herself tirelessly for her family and in her work as an RN. Let’s hope she recovers and can return home.

I also haven’t slept because in my previous post I told you I was going to bake some pies to take to a Derby party and then I carelessly left you hanging – no recipe for the pies. So, in Mary’s honor, and in order that you have a recipe for pie, I give you this family recipe for “Mary’s Bluegrass Pie”. (I could get into a legal battle if I called this by it’s real name.) My sister in Baltimore swears by this recipe when she hosts her Derby parties.

If you want to get a little more fussy you can make small tartlets (or as Mary would say – piettes.) Press a small ball of unbaked pie dough into the cups of mini-muffin pans to form a crust. Then spoon a small amount of the filling into the mini-crusts. By that method the yield is about 48 piettes. Or you can make two 9-inch pies as described below.

Makes two 9-inch pies

Two 9-inch pie crusts, unbaked
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup light corn syrup
pinch of salt
1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup chocolate morsels (gotta love the old recipes and their wording. This means chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 9-inch pie pans with the prepared pie dough. Mix all remaining ingredients in a large bowl, stirring to blend well. Be sure your butter is sufficiently cooled so it doesn’t melt the chocolate morsels. Pour into the crusts. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the pies are set in the middle and the crust is golden brown. (The smaller piettes bake for about 20 minutes.)…

"All I need is a kitchen table"
"All I need is a kitchen table"

 

On New Year’s Day I hosted a brunch for my family. In addition to an overwhelming need to have a party, I extended the invite for other reasons too: my nieces were in town and we hadn’t seen them at Christmas; Barbara, one of my sisters, leaves in mid-January for a 10 week sabbatical at Oxford; and another sister, Theresa, had extended her visit from New York to help my mother get her house ready to sell.

Mom still lives in our family home. After 37 years, the time has come to sell the place. Back in the day we were a family of 10 and, as you can imagine, the red brick home on Summit Drive buzzed with activity. As it stands now, Dad has been gone for almost 5 years and other than a few nights around Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mom spends most nights alone in that house. I don’t anticipate this transition being particularly easy for Mom, but I hope this move allows her to forge ahead without the expense and burden of a large house.

So, on New Year’s Day we sat around my kitchen table and chatted about many things – our cousin who had surgery for prostate cancer, our niece who’s off studying abroad in France, and the odds of UK beating U of L in basketball. This scene is pretty typical. When we get together we have a lot of catching up to do, and more than likely we sit at a kitchen table. Sure, we share a meal first and then we, well, talk. Sometimes my sister Anne multi-tasks, crocheting while talking, but for the most part we just sit and talk.

As Mom packed up her stuff to get ready to leave my house she commented, “Well, when I move I guess all I need is a kitchen table.” And you know, after further reflection, I think she’s probably correct. A fancily decorated living room, or a roaring fire in the fireplace, can’t keep us out of the kitchen or away from sitting together at the table. As a family, a table has brought us together for many reasons and at various locations to share meals and stories, laughter and tears.

After Mom moves, and no matter where we gather, we’ll continue to make our way to a kitchen table and pick up where we left off this past New Year’s Day. We’ll listen to Barbara’s tales about Oxford, and Anne might discuss the pros and cons of campgrounds she visited over the summer, and of course we’ll discuss our plans for the fall, Christmas, and 2010. It’s inevitable – time marches on. We grow, change, and live our lives. But one place remains – our kitchen table. It patiently waits for us to return and talk about days gone by or our future plans. For you see nourishment at our kitchen table comes not only from what we eat, but also, if not more importantly, from whom we meet.…

Kitchen Wisdom
Kitchen Wisdom

Every week of planning and cooking meals leads me to a new revelation. This week I’ve thought more about how the routine of planning contains me. I operate under the rhythm of what I need to do and find peace in my routine. For example, when I run out of an  ingredient I avoid rushing to the supermarket to buy more. Instead, I write the ingredient on a list and wait until my next shopping day to make the purchase. The fact it’s on the list means I don’t have to use my brain power to “remember”. In addition, my shopping trip becomes much more complete because I’m exchanging money for what I need and not what I think I need.…

My Kitchen Never Closes
My Kitchen Never Closes

I spend a lot of time in my kitchen for my paid work and of course for my family. I always told myself I could never cook for others if I didn’t cook for my family as well. Just like most of you, we’re recovering from our days of Thanksgiving feasting. At the same time I’m in the middle of a recipe testing job. For the past four days traditional fall foods have collided with barbeque shrimp and codfish cakes.

 

Our Thanksgiving meal was tasty, plentiful and served buffet-style for the very first time. We gathered at my mom’s home and everyone brought a dish or two. Because the number of able-bodied food passers were out numbered by the very young and very old (who are unable to as nimbly pass hot bowls and platters of food) we made the decision to rely on a buffet set up for serving the meal. Early on, Mom accused us of trying to ruin her Thanksgiving. To her a buffet just didn’t seem genteel, proper, traditional. Nonetheless, we parted with tradition and served the food differently. Despite this, our menu was anything but non-traditional. In fact if was stuffed with all the favorite food that makes our Thanksgivings tick:

Mom did most of the heavy lifting. She prepared the turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, broccoli salad, mincemeat pie and my personal favorite, sage dressing. Barbara assembled the scalloped oysters with a little help from a friend. Frances made fresh cranberry relish and a green bean saute. Anne always bakes a soft, custardy dish of corn pudding and several pumpkin pies. Eileen brought “goopy” salad (also known as Watergate Salad.) I brought the sweet potato casserole and homemade dinner rolls.

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As I write, I smell bacon cooking and hear the best male cook I know whisking together flour and baking soda for pancakes. (I think I just heard him shake the buttermilk too.) Kitchens that feed families never really close, and in fact they never really get clean. In my kitchen there’s always a dab of flour on the floor, a fingerprint on the refrigerator, and a smear of something on the front of the stove. So why and I’m telling you this? If you feel like your kitchen has a revolving door and that the refrigerator door is only truly closed when the house is asleep, don’t despair. An active kitchen means people are being fed, nourished, and cared for. How bad can that be?

I sat down this morning and planned out how and when we’re going to bake our gingerbread house. I planned when I’m going to bake cookies and when I’m going to make my children’s teachers gifts. So you see, my kitchen never closes either, and if for some strange reason it is closed, I’m probably thinking about the next time I’ll be in there and what I’ll be cooking.…

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.)…

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.…

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

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.…

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 …

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.…