Ginger Molasses Cookies

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These cookies have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandmother gave my mom this recipe and my mom taught me how to make them. While my hard-working mother’s version of homemade cookies usually meant slice and bake Pillsbury from the grocery store, she would often make these. And I can see why. These are delicious and so very easy. While many baking recipes require you to soften butter ahead of time or require brown sugar (which even if you do have on hand is probably a solid lump), this recipe can be whipped up in five minutes flat and baked in another series of 8-9 minute batches. And it only requires ONE egg. Simple prep and few fresh ingredients? I’m in.

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The only labor-intensive part is to roll the dough into little balls and coat in sugar – but you can do this while one batch bakes. That part is also tons of fun for kids to do. I make my balls quite small so they are bite-sized and easy to distribute into favor bags. This also reduces the baking time, so if you make larger ones, you may need to compensate.

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The result is slightly spicy (from the ginger and cinnamon) and sweet (from the sugar) with the characteristic flavor of the molasses. They are soft and pillowy, but also firm at the edges. The inclusion of shortening makes them more cake-like, but they aren’t dense. Believe me, if you like cookies that aren’t overly sweet, these are the ones for you. They make excellent favors, hostess gifts, birthday treats, or in-a-pinch treats. I just LOVE hearing how much people enjoy these cookies!

Grandma’s Ginger Molasses Cookies

1 egg

1 Cup White Sugar

3/4 Cup Shortening

2 Tbsp Molasses

1 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 tsp Ground Ginger

1/2 tsp Ground Cloves

1/2 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

2 Cups Flour

More white sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350. Cream together the first four ingredients until combined in a stand mixer (or by hand – these really are easy cookies to do with minimal equipment, time, and ingredients). Measure out the spices (including salt and soda) and mix into the batter to distribute evenly. Add the flour one cup at a time and mix until it comes together to form a fairly doughy consistency. Roll into 1 inch balls (changing the size of the balls will affect cooking time, but you can do it if you want bigger cookies). Coat each ball lightly in sugar and place on parchment-lined baking sheet (or the silicone mats work as well). Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes (until you see slight browning on the edge of the cookie. Let rest for a minute or two and transfer to a cooling rack. Once cool, store in an airtight container for best results.

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Apple Cinnamon Crostata

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Following on the success of my apple pie, I decided to use this week’s apple bounty (thanks future parents-in-law!) to make an apple crostata. A crostata is just a rustic Italian pie – the beauty of which is you can use any fruity thing you have on hand to make it – even jam! That’s right – just roll out a pie crust and spread on the jam or your fav fruit mixture and bake on high heat for 20-25 minutes. If you want it to be prettier, swipe a little egg wash on the edges and sprinkle with some sugar. The only thing you have to realize is that like any pie without a top crust, there will be a lack of moisture which you should try to compensate for by adding a liquid to your fruit (like orange juice) or dotting the top with butter. Some fruit fillings, though, are more moist than others, so let your conscience be your guide there. And of course there are many tried and true recipes you can follow (like this one from my main lady-chef Ina Garten).

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There is almost nothing different about this crostata compared to my apple pie. Except I did forget the egg wash and I could have added more moisture on top for a juicier filling. Even so, the apple filling is sweet, tart, and warm from the cinnamon – good both room temperature and steamy from the microwave. What I really love about a crostata is how unfussy it is. It’s rustic, so the edges are folded over the filling. It’s pretty without being perfect. I also love that I can make the recipe for two crusts, use one now and freeze one for later.

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Mr. Foodie and I used one of our gift cards from the wedding shower (thanks wonderful friends and family!) to buy our first coffee machine. Sitting here having a slice of crostata with a cup of coffee and my main man – is there anything better than this?

What’s your favorite pie filling?

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Ditch the Rice, Make Risotto

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Photo Credit: Food Highs

I’ve written before about how Mr. Foodie does not care for rice or pasta as much as some people do (me!), but what I’ve learned is that he is just picky with his rice and pasta. He likes only whole wheat pasta with a great tasting sauce. He likes flavored rice like fried rice or, one of my favorites, risotto. I learned about risotto from watching cooking shows which simultaneously left me feeling anxious about pulling off such a complicated dish and feeling comforted to know that it was, indeed, possible and even easy. I’ve now made it so many times that I don’t have to consult a recipe. It was even one of the dishes I made when Mr. Foodie and I were dating so I could impress him. But perhaps the major objection to risotto is the time and attention it takes to make it. This is a good 30-40 minute dish over which you have to preside the whole time – not everyone’s cup of tea. I personally find it relaxing. I prop up my ipad on the holder to watch a funny show while I sip white wine and ladle chicken stock – this is pretty much my happy place. The real question is: is it worth it? I answer with a resounding Yes!

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Risotto is just slowly cooked rice that is very flavorful because of the various additions. My base recipe has onions, white wine, chicken stock, and parmesan cheese. To this you can add whatever you like or have on hand. Last night, I added a sauteed zucchini, but I’ve also mooned over risotto with cooked mushrooms, steamed asparagus, and oven roasted tomatoes. Risotto, like regular rice or pasta, is a great blank canvas to which you can add some amazing flavor. Of course, it is also delicious by itself as well.

I thought I’d give some step-by-step instructions for this because I do remember how intimidated I was by it when I first made it, so hopefully this will demystify it for some of you and just be interesting for the rest. I begin with 1 cup of aborio rice (the rice used to make risotto – you will not be able to get the same results with other kinds of rice), 1 diced onion, two tablespoons of olive oil or butter, 1 cup white wine (I use a chardonnay), 1 cup parmesan cheese (or to taste) and about 4 cups chicken stock which has been heated. Saute the onion in the oil until translucent, then add in the rice and stir until the rice is coated in the onions/oil. Cook for a minute on medium-low until rice has absorbed some of the oil. Add the white wine and cook until rice has absorbed most of the liquid.

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From then on you will add chicken stock to the dish one ladle at a time, letting the rice soak up the stock each time before adding more. Stir the rice often to prevent it from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan. I say “about 4 cups” of chicken stock because sometimes I use it all and sometimes I do not. I can usually tell when the rice has absorbed enough liquid because I’ve made it so many times – the object is to create a rice that is fully cooked, creamy, but not mushy or soupy which can happen if you cook too long or add too much liquid. Know also that you will be adding the cheese in at the end which will thicken the rice even more.

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I cook any veggies that I’m adding separately and add them last. You can also choose to season the dish, and typically I just add pepper since the cheese is salty as is the chicken stock. This is the kind of dish where, if you can afford it, it pays to use the best of each ingredient  – onion, stock, cheese, wine – they all shine in the finished dish. The sharpness of the onion, the richness of the stock, the saltiness of the cheese, and the tang of the wine are all present in this creamy, soul-satisfying treat.

This tastes best if eaten right away, although I’ve had leftovers before and enjoyed them. I had the best photo of the finished dish with steam coming off it and everything, but I accidentally deleted it when I meant to email it off Mr. Foodie’s phone (his phone has the best camera in the house). In any case, the header pic looks very much like my version of risotto with zucchini.  To “lighten” this recipe, you can choose to use veggie stock and omit the cheese, but it will lack some flavor and thickening without the cheese.

Zucchini Risotto (adapted from Ina Garten’s risotto recipe)

Serves 4 as a main

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil (or butter)

1 Diced Onion

1 Cup Aborio Rice

1 Cup White Wine (Chardonnay works well)

4 Cups of Chicken Stock (or Veggie Stock)

1 Cup Parmesan Cheese (or to taste)

Saute the onion in the oil until softened. Add rice and cook for a minute or two over medium-low heat. Add white wine and cook until rice has absorbed liquid. Ladle heated chicken stock in one ladle at a time, waiting for rice to absorb liquid before adding more. Stir rice often to prevent burning and sticking and to ensure even cooking. Add stock until rice is fully cooked, creamy, but not mushy or soupy. Take off the heat and add cheese and top with any cooked veggies. You can also season to taste.

For Zucchini: cut off ends, slice down the middle, then cut into thin half-moons. Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat. Throw zucchini into pan with a little salt and pepper, cook undisturbed for a couple minutes, then turn – they should have tiny gold blisters on each side (this is my preference compared to steaming them, but you can do either method).

What is your favorite risotto topper?

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Historical Baking: Gingerbread from American Cake

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One of our wedding shower gifts was this amazing American Cake cookbook given to me by my awesome bridesmaid Becca. I have quite a collection of cookbooks now thanks to my generous family and friends. I definitely have a high bar for cookbooks – I want narrative, drama, personal stories! And of course great recipes. What rocks about American Cake is the history the book presents of cake in American culture. The author, Anne Byrn, writes about cakes in a chronological order, updating some early American recipes to make it easy for a modern cook to replicate. Each recipe contains more little side bars with interesting historical facts or chef’s notes. It is a pleasure to look at, to read, and to cook from.

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Most everyone who has eaten my food has tasted my ginger molasses cookies at some point (the recipe for which I still owe you), so I naturally gravitated toward the American Gingerbread recipe in the first chapter. According to Anne, this recipe is the second of seven versions of gingerbread provided by Amelia Simmons who wrote the first American cookbook in 1796. This version is not the kind of gingerbread you roll out and cut for cookies or press into a mold; this gingerbread is more cake-like which I found immensely intriguing. My ginger-molasses cookie is also softer and more cake-like than normal ginger cookies.

And just like my version of ginger cookies, this cake was amazingly easy to pull together. The only advance prep is softening the butter to room temperature and dissolving the baking soda (which I have a huge appreciation for after reading Anne’s historical account of how it revolutionized baking) in water.

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Pretty-kitty was dying for a taste

Anne suggests blending the first few ingredients with a wooden spoon to, I suppose, mimic the way it was made in early America. I, however, used the stand mixer which worked out perfectly. 35 minutes at 375 and a 20 minute rest = one delicious gingerbread-cake. By itself the cooked molasses flavor is a bit strong, but Anne suggests serving each slice with a bit of cream poured over it. Since all we have is French Vanilla (for coffee!), that is what we used. The combination was heavenly. It was soft and spongey, spicey and warm. The cream softened the strong flavors and turned this treat into a comfort dish.

This would make a freaking delicious breakfast pastry, afternoon tea-snack, or dessert. Winter’s coming! And this dish is worth every minute.

No. 2 Gingerbread (American Gingerbread) by Anne Byrn

1 tsp baking soda

1 Cup boiling water

1 Cup molasses

2 large eggs

1/2 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp

1/2 Cup white sugar

2 Cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp allspice

Butter a 8″ x 9″ baking pan and preheat the oven to 375. Boil 1 Cup of water and dissolve the baking soda inside it. Set aside.

(This is a deviation from Anne’s directions) Put softened butter, molasses, eggs, sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon, and allspice into the stand mixer and mix together on low until combined (scrape sides if necessary). Then add in the baking soda water and mix on low for a full minute.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Let rest on cooling rack for 20 minutes. Serve with a bit of cream if you like.

Chicken and Waffles

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I already wrote about how spoiled Mr. Foodie and I were by our friends and family at the wedding shower last week, but I didn’t say that one of our special gifts was a waffle iron! I love pancakes and all, but they are the trickiest thing I ever make, and my mom still makes better pancakes than I. Waffles, on the other hand… I’m pretty good at those. If I were to write a culinary memoir, moving to the south from the west would feature my introduction to Chicken and Waffles as a dish. I remember the first time I saw it on a menu at Next Door, the Northeast DC restaurant next door to Ben’s Chili Bowl. I balked at the combination, but it dawned on me that the sweet bready waffle would pair perfectly with the crunchy, salty chicken. And a love affair was born. Now this is by no means a healthy dish, but I did my part to “lighten” it as much as possible.

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I used whole wheat panko bread crumbs on the chicken and oven-“fried” it instead of deep-frying it. I bought the healthiest pancake mix I could find – 1) yes I use pancake mix for waffles because I find it browns better than the beefed up waffle mix and 2) no, I did not make them from scratch because I have yet to find a recipe I like. Since I’ve never owned a waffle iron as an adult, I’m still working on finding recipes I like, and I’m open to suggestions!

The chicken is an adapted version of Cat Cora’s “Crispy ‘Fried’ Chicken” in Cooking from the Hip (a cookbook I LOVE btw). She uses buttermilk, mustard, and corn flakes to bread the chicken. I used whole wheat panko crumbs and egg/mustard for a similar effect. I am also low on spices, but she calls for adding cayenne and paprika depending on your tastes. What I love about her version is the combination of the tangy mustard, the tickle of spice, and the sweet corn flake. Her recipe uses bone-in chicken, so I adjust cooking time for chicken fingers w/out bone.

I put the chicken on top of the waffle and add a simple maple syrup and a basic homemade gravy (3T butter, 3T flour, Can of stock, salt/pepper). The combination is amazing. The rich gravy and sweet syrup play so nicely with the spicy chicken and soft waffle. Mmmmmm. It’s stick-to-your-ribs comfort food at its finest and a good way to stretch chicken. In the past, I’ve cut up the waffle and made smaller portions. Mr. Foodie and I wolfed ours down and proceeded into a mini-food coma for an hour. Good thing we ate early. Now we can take a walk before dark.

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Chicken and Waffles Recipe (serves 2 w/ some leftover chicken)

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

7 strips of chicken breast (1-2 breasts depending on size)

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour

Salt and Pepper

2 Eggs

2 Tablespoons Spicy Brown Mustard

1 Tsp Cayenne Pepper

1 Cup Whole Wheat Panko Bread Crumbs

Waffle Mix (2 Cups dry – makes two good sized waffles in reg iron)

3 Tablespoons butter

3 Tablespoons flour

1 Can Stock

Maple Syrup

Oil a baking sheet with the olive oil and preheat oven to 425 F. Dredge the chicken strips in flour, salt, and pepper mixture, shaking off excess. Dip floured chicken into egg, mustard, cayenne pepper mixture. Finally, dip floured, egged chicken into panko bread crumbs. I recommend doing this one strip at a time and using one hand to dip the chicken into flour and one to dip into egg and panko crumbs (to reduce mess). Put breaded chickens on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Lower heat to 375 and bake for another 5-7 minutes (depending on your oven – look for crispy edges and clear juice when cut).

While chicken is cooking, mix pancake mix according to box instructions (or use a favorite recipe). Get waffle iron good and hot before pouring in the mix. Spray with a light coat of butter/oil spray. Pour in the mix and wait to turn for a minute or so. Don’t worry, steam will escape as the waffle cooks. Be patient and you will have nice, fluffy, but crispy waffles.

Just before serving, melt the butter and then whisk in the flour, stirring constantly over medium heat to cook the roux. After two minutes, pour in the stock while whisking. Cook, stirring often, over medium-low heat until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon.

Assemble your waffles and chicken, pour on the syrup and gravy – enjoy!

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Camping, Eating, Boating

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All my blogging ambitions fell by the wayside upon returning home with Mr. Foodie because I’ve been having *SO* much fun! First my wonderful bridesmaids took me on a dream bachelorette weekend to our college town where we drank beer and wine and gossiped late into the evenings. Then we had my bridal shower which was held on a Tuesday night (#unconventionalbutawesome) where we drank *MORE* wine and Mr. Foodie and I were spoiled ROTTEN with the most amazing presents (including my dishes and dining table which I whined about earlier – and nearly all cooking-related gifts ;)). Finally, this past weekend, we went camping with the family and friends – a thing we used to do regularly, but not for many years.

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Let me tell you, when we camp, we camp it up. On the one hand, we sleep in tents, in sleeping bags, on the ground (well on an air mattress -who are we kidding? #toooldforthatshit), but on the other hand, we bring a HUGE smoker and make amateur foodie dream-meals. One time we had a tent the whole purpose of which was to be the “bar.” This year, Mr. Foodie and I volunteered to make the first night’s dinner. Knowing that we’d be setting up the first day and half our crew wouldn’t be arriving until late in the evening, we wanted to make it as easy and delicious as possible. We arrived at chicken/veggie foil packets with rice. I tried to replicate my future-mother-in-law’s rice because it is amazing, but ended up with only normalish rice, but still tasty. We cooked the rice ahead of time and sealed it in a plastic bag. We also opted for precooked, but frozen chicken strips which we paired with sliced zucchini, squash, onion, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. It was a gamble, but we were betting that the veggies would cook and chicken would defrost at around the same time if we popped them on the grill off direct heat. It worked! Everyone said our packets were delicious and I can confirm. It was also super easy and a great alternative to the old hotdog camping standby.

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My mother volunteered the first breakfast, and I thought I’d share her solution to feeding 20+ people breakfast while camping – freezer bag omelettes! To make it easier, she used egg beaters so folks could pick up a bag, pour their desired amount of egg inside, add toppings, and seal it. Then you add up to 8 bags into a boiling pot of water for approximately* 13 minutes. The hitch in this version was boiling the water on the smoker – the pot got so hot it started to melt the bags when they touched the sides. We also had to adjust the cooking time significantly – *13 minutes works well if you only have the equivalent of 1-2 eggs in the bag, but most folks poured more than that (plus I suspect egg beaters cook up differently than fresh eggs). So it took longer, we had to watch the bags so they didn’t melt, etc. but eventually we got our omelettes. The toppings were definitely the best part, and in theory I am a fan of the whole omelettes-by-the-dozen concept, but next time I’ll be using real eggs, portioning them exactly, and using a regular camp stove to boil the water.

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All in all, a great weekend of camping, eating, and boating! What camp-meal tricks do you like to use? Please share with us!

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Lake Anna

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Kale, Cannellini, & Chicken Soup

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In case you missed it on instagram, we are finally moved in to our new/old home and gearing up for more cooking and eating adventures. We miss the keys already (mostly the water!), but are so happy to be back among family and friends. I wish I had a picture of it, but all our kitchen equipment arrived safely in two enormous plastic bins. I even got a bonus kitchen treat upon arrival – my mother’s Hummel spice rack! There is a mysterious lid to a missing jar (that probably broke during one of our 17 moves from my childhood), and I cannot for the life of me figure out which spice it might hold.

In any case, I break into a smile every time I see my little rows of spice jars. I can’t wait to fill them all up. Mr. Foodie and I have only just re-started to cook for ourselves in the kitchen, having hooked up the gas (omg, I missed my gas stove SO MUCH) and procured basic groceries. We still have occasional hang-ups that remind us we are not fully back to normal – and it is amazing how much I take for granted having certain things on hand all the time (tin foil, tape, olive oil, flour). Because we purged before leaving, we have the added issue of having some things, but not others. I am probably the only woman on the planet who still has her citrus zester while lacking a toaster. Whereas I am used to settling a house in three days or less (my mom was very good at the moving thing), Mr. Foodie has had to reign me in – we can’t go buy all new stuff right now, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I kind of like starting over a little. I had been living with the same things I had since college for years. Now we can take our time, comparison shop, read reviews, etc. It also feels more like “our ” home this time around. Before, it was *my* home into which Mr. Foodie brought clothes and games. Now when we get something new, we decide on it together.

As I scroll through my instagram and remember the crazy, wild year we’ve had, I’ve also made a resolution to transplant some of the enthusiasm I had for Kansas or the Fl Keys into my life here. It is easy to feel curious and excited about a new place, but I want to try to feel that way (even just occasionally) about my old/new home. I guess one upside of traveling this year has been to snap me out of my rut. I’m back in the game, and it feels great!

I’ve already shared with you our weekly ritual of making homemade chicken stock, but below I offer the recipe to our Kale, Cannellini, and Chicken soup. The first version I made included mild italian sausage instead of chicken, which I prefer, but #weddingdiets. The beauty of this soup is you can mix it up – have ground turkey instead of chicken? good! prefer black eyed peas instead of cannellini beans? go for it! You can change the greens too, although I’d recommend staying in the family of tough greens that stand up to time -this soup is good even three days after I make it, and the Kale keeps its crunchy, bitter bite even then. A sprinkle of parmesean on top and some cracked pepper sends this soup over the top. Pair with some white wine and crusty bread (if you’re not on a #weddingdiet) and enjoy!

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Kale, Cannellini, Chicken Soup

2 Quarts (8 C) of Chicken Stock (homemade or store-bought)

2 15 oz Cans of Cannellini Beans with juice

1/2 Bunch Kale Leaves, chopped

2 Cooked Chicken Breasts, shredded (or less if the breasts are large – mine are smaller as they come from the chicken whose bones I use to make the stock)

salt and pepper to taste

garnish of parmesean cheese

Bring stock to a boil and add beans, kale leaves, shredded chicken, and pinches of salt/pepper. Boil for 4-5 min until Kale leaves have darkened and wilt (they will keep their texture for the most part, but boiling softens their bitterness). Ladle into bowls, add garnish and taste for seasoning. You can substitute the chicken with ground turkey or sausage and the kale for other bitter greens if desired.

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A FL Keys Farewell Treat: Key Lime Pie

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It is perhaps fitting that the last thing I make in my beloved Keys this year is a Key Lime Pie. I didn’t plan it that way. I just thought that after 9 weeks it was time to test this iconic dish, so I grabbed the shockingly few ingredients required to make it and set forth, only half paying attention as the mixture was whipping away, while we began packing. You see, dear readers, Mr. Foodie and I are moving back to VA in the coming days. Back to our small, but pretty little condo and our friends and family. I am torn between sadness and excitement because I will miss so much about living here. The water most of all. But I am also looking forward to so much back home. Seeing my loved ones. Cooking in my kitchen. Shopping at a grocery store with more than one kind of fresh herb for sale at a time.

I’m almost finished reading As Always Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto and I’m struck with how resilient Julia was through all the moving and the major disappointments she faced with her cookbook, and by her dedication to her work nonetheless. Her letters to Avis do not, perhaps, reflect those nights she woke up sobbing with anxiety and despair, but these two friends were as open with each other as they could be separated by so much distance. As I stood over our two long, large plastic bins trying to get all my kitchen equipment to fit properly, I was reminded of Julia and it fortified me. This will be our fourth two-day car ride this year. We’re both looking forward to returning home. And yet, I’m so glad we came here because it gave me this blog. I have always wanted to have one like this, but a nagging voice always said it was a waste of time. I had more important things to do. Moving here gave me the excuse – “our family and friends will know what we’ve been up to lately.” And it helped me fill some lonely hours. It inspired us to try new adventures. It forced us out of the house to meet new people and eat good food. It made me fall in love all over again with Mr. Foodie.

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I won’t let it go, even though I will cease to be a resident of the fl keys. I’m having too much fun! And all I can think about is how many cool places and good eats I want to share with you from my hometown. And all the recipes I still owe you. And all the new things I have yet to try. With that I will give you the recipe for this beautiful Key Lime Pie that I made. I was proud beyond measure with the texture of the custard – firm, but light. And the flavor! Tart, but creamy and made whole by buttery graham cracker and sweet whipped cream. Victoria Shearer provides an excellent history of key lime pie in her book, but I’ll just briefly say that this pie evolved here because of how few fresh ingredients it required – canned condensed milk for instance -and of course because of the abundance of key limes that grow here.

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Key Lime Pie

Crust (we bought a baked crust from the grocery store, but I might make my own next time for a better texture)

  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (if using bottled, preferably Manhattan brand)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix together crust ingredients and press into a pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes and let cool on a rack. In a stand mixer bowl, combine filling ingredients and whisk on medium for 4-5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly. Once the pie shell is cool, pour the filling into the pie shell. Tap if necessary to even it out. Bake in 350 oven for 15 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours (I let mine sit overnight). Garnish with whipped cream (we used store-bought, but homemade is soooo much better) and a lime wedge if desired (note: if you put whipped cream on the pie, it will dissolve after a few minutes, so make sure you wait until ready to serve to do this).

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We’ll be on the move and unpacking in the next few days, but you will still be able to find us here cooking and blogging about our new food adventures. Have you made key lime pie before? Did you play with this basic recipe? If so, how?

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Cooking Together: Soft Pretzels Part Duex and Yellow Rice

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Yesterday as I was chopping onions and Mr. Foodie was rolling dough, I thought of how wonderful it was to have found someone with whom my soul sings. While Mr. Foodie is not as crazy obsessed with food as I am (reading about it, going *way* out of the way to eat it, cooking it even when we’re dog tired, etc.), he is always game to go along with my schemes and is responsible for more than his share of culinary inspirations. It was his idea to re-do the soft pretzels because we were still unsatisfied with the yeasty taste of our last batch. I was throwing together an easy enchilada dish and trying to make yellow rice for the first time. He had patiently steered the cart through the “foreign” aisle and spice aisle in our limited grocery store while I was looking for annatto (or poor-man’s saffron) to make the yellow rice. He picked up some more yeast thinking he’d like to retackle the pretzels sometime.

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No time like the present! When I came up from my first swim in days (thank you hurricane-like weather), he had just finished the first rise. This time Mr. Foodie adapted the recipe from The Kitchn, adding garlic powder and a bit more flour than was called for to make the dough less tacky. As you can see from the photo, the “skin” of the pretzels did not come out as brown as the last batch, but man were these delicious. No yeasty-flavor this time. Just light, flaky bread with the tiniest hint of garlic at the back and the perfect amount of salt on top – provided by this excellent seasoned salt that my mom brought back with her from our trip to Austria a couple years ago. I didn’t miss the brown crust or baking-soda taste it can often have. These were, perhaps, closer to dinner roles, but they still held up perfectly to a bit of mustard. Beauties they are not, but I found myself sneaking bites off the rack all throughout my dinner prep.

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The enchiladas I made are the most basic recipe – cooked onions and 1/2 green pepper w/ shredded chicken meat I pulled off our roast chicken for the week, canned red enchilada sauce (I wanted green, but they were out), and regular shredded jack cheese. Assemble, bake for 30 min at 350 or until bubbling. Because I was using all the meat from a roast chicken, it made a LOT of enchiladas – a whole 9×13 casserole of them. That’s okay as Mr. Foodie and I like to take breaks from prepping dinner to just eat leftovers sometimes. To make them more filling (and because we prefer the flavor) we used whole wheat tortillas. Don’t they look delicious?

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Yellow rice is something I’ve had for years in restaurants all over the place, but never once tried to make at home. My rice is basic – stove top, fluffy, white. Mr. Foodie doesn’t *love* rice or pasta as much as some people do (me), but he will eat it as the bed of whatever entree I’m making. I’ve decided that 2016 is the year I learn how to make different rices to expand my repertoire. I have this recipe from the FL Keys foodie authority Victoria Shearer whose recipe book on Keys cooking inspired me to start this blog! I have been very pleased with the recipes I’ve made from her book, although for many of them I use substitutions because of the number of expensive or one-off ingredients she calls for (had I a walk-in pantry and a small fortune I’d invest in these, but alas).

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In this case she asks you to cook a cup of chopped onion and a cup of green pepper until softened, then add water, annatto, salt and pepper and chopped two plum tomatoes. Bring to a boil, add rice, and simmer for 25+ minutes to cook the rice. It cooked up beautifully and I loved the onion/pepper to rice ratio here. The only critique I had was about flavor. Supposedly the annatto does more than color the rice, flavor wise, but I found the rice was significantly underseasoned. I would have replaced the water with stock, maybe thrown in some chili powder, at least put a bit more salt and pepper than was called for. We both had to add salt at the table, which pains me. The color and texture were perfect, though.

All in all, not a bad night in the foodie department. And I got to test and retest dishes with the man I love. The man who brings me coffee in the morning. The man who cleans all the dishes after our epic cooking feats. The man who patiently holds the cart while I practically body-check an old lady trying to get to the annatto. 🙂

Recipe for Yellow Rice from The Florida Keys Cookbook by Victoria Shearer

1 C Vidalia Onion chopped

1 C Green Pepper, chopped

1 1/2 C Water

2 Plum Tomatoes, chopped

1/4 teaspoon annatto

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 C Rice

Cook onion and green pepper until softened. Add water, tomatoes, and spices and bring to a boil. Add rice and stir until boiling again. Turn down heat and simmer for 25-30 min until rice is fully cooked (ours took 25 min and even had a little crust on the bottom which was tasty). I would recommend the following amendments: replace water with stock, increase salt and pepper and/or add 1/2 teaspoon chili powder if you like a bit of heat.

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Ina Garten’s (Sort-of) Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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One of my library finds was Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead. I am not ashamed to say that Ina was one of the first Food Network chefs to suck me into the world of cooking and baking. I’m not sure what I pictured a cooking show being like before watching hers, but to me, her entire lifestyle and approach to entertaining made me want to do a happy dance. As someone who cringes a little when I see the price for even slightly nice chocolate, some of her recipes come off as too extravagant for my bank account, but I pride myself on adapting a lot of her recipes to cost less and take fewer pans/bowls/utensils (*some* of us do not have an entire staff to clean up after us, Ina – but #cookinggoals).

I especially love her attitude about dessert. She can definitely whip up a cake or pie or other sweet thing with the best of them, but she often says “just put out some cheese and fruit” or “cookies and coffee.” I, too, rarely go “all out” to make a special dessert if I’ve been slaving away at a nice dinner. I either buy a pie/cake/tart or I make cookies. And often my grandmother’s ginger-molasses cookies (the recipe for which I swear is coming soon) because they take so few ingredients, I can make them from start to finish in an hour, and everyone just LOVES them. So I was pleased beyond measure to see a new cookie recipe in Ina’s cookbook and one that speaks to my desire for salty-sweet treats: Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies. These delectable little ladies have everything I love in them – the bitter-sweet chocolate, the light kiss of salt, the tart tang of dried cranberries, and the coziness of oats – is there anything better than oats in a cookie? We might be in the minority here, but oatmeal cookies are Mr.Foodie and I’s favorite kind.

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The only problem, as you can probably tell from the photos, is I did not wait to soften the butter before mixing it in. Thus the characteristic “melted edges” you see there. Honestly I rarely use butter in cookies because I prefer the more cake-like texture that shortening gives a cookie (and I don’t have to wait for shortening to soften!), but I wanted to replicate Ina’s cookies exactly. And she is definitely on to something – the buttery, oaty flavor of the cookie dough is extremely tasty, if a little rich. Despite my blunder, they are very delicious. Because I have ample amounts of all the ingredients left over, I’m planning to make them again – this time either softening the butter ahead of time or trying out shortening in its place to see how that fares. I’ll give you an update later in the week. Until then, enjoy the recipe Ina’s Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies:

½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1¼ cups old-fashioned oats, such as Quaker
¾ pound bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, chopped in chunks
¾ cup dried cranberries
Fleur de sel

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 3 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl again.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix in the oats. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Don’t overbeat it! With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate and cranberries until the dough is well mixed. With a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop (or two spoons), scoop round balls of dough onto the prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you prefer cookies thin and crisp, bake them straight from the mixing bowl. If you prefer them chewy in the middle and crisp outside, chill the balls of dough.

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