Sunday, March 14, 2010

The "Fruits" of My Time Off

During this long winter, I couldn't help but want to bake. My dad bought me a subscription to Cooks Illustrated magazine and this recipe intrigued me - Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies. It was hard to imagine bringing something new to the table here but I think this recipe lives up to its name. If you have ever baked chocolate chip cookies and been disappointed in your results, this one is for you (all of us). They have gone to great lengths to scientifically create a truly chewy cookie with a crackly exterior. It is a little bit more trouble, but judging by how long they lasted at my house (not long), it was worth it. Cooks Illustrated leaves out no details whatsoever on their recipes as you will see below.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 16 cookies

1 3/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
14 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed dark brown sugar (I used light - it was fine)
1 t. table salt
2 t. vanilla
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips (I used Hersheys but they tasted tested Ghiradelli as best -I went with the economy choice)
3/4 c. chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18" x 12") with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl; set aside
2. Heat 10 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and , using a heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to a large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons better into hot butter until completely melted.
3. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting an whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough a final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
4. Divide dough into 16 portions (I didn't count), each about 3 tablespoons ( or use a #24 scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used but will require 3 batches.)
5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 min, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

I didn't make my cookies quite that big. Kylie made them yesterday and didn't bother to brown the butter. They tasted fine. It seems like a lot of trouble but you don't have to get the mixer out or soften the butter. I do use the parchment paper. It really does make a difference. Reynolds brand at WalMart is cheaper than at a gourmet shop or Pampered Chef.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Long Winter

Winter just doesn't seem to want to relinquish its grasp on us here in these beautiful mountians. Carter County Schools have exceeded their snow days by eleven (so far). I have to admit, though, that I have enjoyed this winter. Having spent my childhood in Illinois, 60 or 70 degree days in the winter never did make sense to me.

This winter has been a gift of sorts. My job affords me the luxury of not having to go anywhere when the weather is bad. I had time to do things I like to do - cook, sew, play my guitar. I like my job, but I have loved having this unexpected time to rest and restore.

I am well aware of the fact that I'll have to work some days into what would have been my summer, but it will be easier to get up and leave the house on a sunny day in May than it would have on a snowy January or February morning. I realize, too, that educationally this is not the best scenario for my students, but nothing I could have done would have changed the weather. We'll work hard, and we'll get back on track. So I accept this time as a gift and look forward to next winter.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Tasty Recipe

I tried these for a church gathering and Becky and Cindy asked me to share the recipe. They are super easy and tasty. Just to give credit where credit is due, it came from the book Winning Recipes from Taste of Home.

Chewy Pecan Pie Bars

1/4 c. butter, melted
2 c. packed brown sugar
2/3 c. all purpose flour
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt ( I cut this back to 1/8 since I used salted butter)
2 c. chopped pecans

confectioner's sugar to dust on top

Pour melted butter into a 13x9 inch baking pan. Set aside. In mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Stir in pecans. Spread over butter. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes (mine was done in 25). Remove from oven. Immediately dust with confectioner's sugar. Cool before cutting. Yield: about 2 dozen.

This is one I'll definitely make again since it was so easy. Gives the taste of a pecan pie without the work.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I Just Don't Get It

I just don't get it. What is the big deal about the Super Bowl? Once your regional team is out of the running, how do you decide who to be for? Who do you decide to be for in the first place? For some it is a regional identity, but most teams aren't made up of people from that region. They move from team to team. Their loyalty isn't to a city or a region. Their loyalty is to whomever pays them the most money. Historically, did the teams have regional and ethnic identity like the Vikings or the Celtics (I know, that's basketball)? If they did, that has long since past.

While I don't get the big deal about sports in general, I can understand the affinity one would have for one's school team. You know those people. You go to school with them. I can even see a loyalty to one's alma mater. That makes some sense. How can you choose to be a Cowboys fan or a 49ers fan if you have never even been to Dallas or San Francisco? My husband says he was for the Redskins and the Colts when he was a kid because he liked horses and Indians. I don't even know how to respond to that.

What drives the urge to compete with one another in such an arbitrary way? This part has nothing to do with the teams. Of course the teams compete, but why do the fans feel the need to compete with one another for completely baseless reasons? It gets crazy and people actually form their opinion of others based on the team they root for.

I realize that I am in the vast minority here. I don't like sports in general, but most people do. Millions of dollars will be spent on this and other annual rituals. This is not limited to football or to the United States. The rest of the world is just as crazy for soccer.

I do admit that I actually kind of like The Olympics, but not really because of the sports, but because of the stories of the people and the stories about the different areas of the world. So what's my point? My husband says I don't have one, and that I am not making sense. I guess we're both confused. (He says he's not.) I am so glad we have more than one TV.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Introducing Kate Rusby

One of my Christmas presents arrived in the mail today. It took a while since it came from the other side of the pond. It was a Kate Rusby Songbook, Volume II.

I discovered Kate Rusby on Pandora Radio. I started by asking for Celtic music, and her song just happened to be the first one they played. I gave it a "thumbs up", and they played more. I created a Kate Rusby Radio station and became, along with the rest of Britain's folkies, a big fan. Kate has a sweet, uncomplicated voice and brings her own unique style to traditional ballads and many of her own compositions. She is known as Britain's Queen of Folk and is popular in the same way there as Allison Kraus is here.

Her songbook makes it look like her songs are ultra simple, but her C, F, and G are not standard C, F, and G. She uses alternate tunings, such as double drop D and DADGAD, and open chord shapes to create her unique sound. There is a Celtic influence to her style, but it is her own. Her Christmas CD "Sweet Bells" provided the soundtrack for my Christmas Season this year. On it she features traditional Yorkshire Village Carols and original tunes to traditional lyrics. My favorite cut is hard to choose, since I love the whole album, but I find myself listening to "A Miner's Dream of Home" again and again. I have been working on my own version of it on the guitar and enjoying that, too. I use a short cut capo to achieve that alternate tuning sound (I didn't figure that out; my guitar teacher did).

If you are interested in sampling a little bit of her music, she has a few free cuts on her My Space page and I'll include a link to some You Tube videos. Her accent is charming and her music is engaging. I like it. See what you think. From "Sweet Bells" "Little Jack Frost" "The Lark" (not crazy about the video, but you can hear the song)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sting's new album

I don't think I am quite finished with Christmas music. I have even checked out the half price albums at Target. I look for Christmas music I have never heard before. If the playlist includes "Little Drummer Boy" or "The Christmas Song", it is a definite no. I really don't think Carrie Underwood will bring anything new to table.

Sting is another story. He never does anything conventional, and his winter album is no exception. If you are thinking Bing Crosby, save your money. Sting uses original and traditional songs from the British Isles with contemporary and traditional instruments to create a real mix of Christmas and winter related tunes. Lute, hurdy-gurdy, and melodion are just a few of the unusual instruments.

There are times I think he's trying too hard to be different, but several of the songs, especially "The Burning Babe", are really interesting. There are also times when he tries too hard for a vocal effect I can't quite describe, and don't like. Overall, I am glad to add it to my library.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Along with the new year and these lovely snow days (the little Carter County teacher bonus) comes the inevivitable realization that exercise needs to be part of my routine. I have gone in spurts over the years. I even belonged to a gym for a while, more than once. I have walked the neighborhood with Kylie or neighbors. I have purchased videos. I even own a stablity ball and mini tramp. I get it. No lectures necessary. Why can't I keep it up? Why is it such a chore? It isn't really that big of a deal.

Maybe I have the sports gene missing. I do hate to watch sports (except the Olympics, a contradiction, I know). I thank God that my children were not sporty. That would have meant endless hours watching practices and games. I can't imagine greater torture. Pee Wee soccer and T-Ball were horrible for all of us and were thankfully short lived. No matter what I have tried or how hard I have pushed, I have never felt the magical endorphin rush. Maybe I am missing that gene, too.

Maybe it is vanity. Not only does being sweaty feel gross and smell bad, my hair sticks to my head, and I look pretty darn bad. My cue to quit is that warm, damp feeling of just breaking a sweat.

Find something you think is fun and do that, they say. Fun? Seriously? None of it is fun. Dancing or skating might be tolerable. The best I can hope for is to tolerate movement while doing something else that distracts me. Several years ago there was this excercise lady on TV that I actually liked, Charlene Prickett. She was so chatty about her friends, her kids, and what she had recently read, that it was pretty much over before you knew it. She's not on any more. Her videos are boring since there's no newsy chat.

So, today I jumped around and walked on a mini-stepper (yes, I have that, too) while watching a recording of America's Test Kitchen. Thirty commercial-free minutes, and I am done. And yes, I am aware of the contradiction of watching a cooking show to distract me from the horror of excercise. Whatever works, I guess.