Monday, September 23, 2013

triple peanut butter cookies

Even though we're roasting away here in Southern California, I still have fall back-to-school in my heart. And although now it seems that most schools have on-campus hot lunch programs, I have great affinity for the packed lunch tradition. I feel a couple of cookies should be standard with each lunch box.

On impulse the other day I snagged a bag of peanut butter chips at the grocery store. It is just ridiculous how much I love them. I initially considered adding the chips to a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe in replacement of the chocolate chips, but then I thought, what if I could take a peanut butter cookie and really, to steal an Ina Garten phrase, 'turn up the volume': enhancing a classic peanut butter cookie dough recipe with peanut butter chips and chopped salted roasted peanuts. As soon as I started thinking about it, I could not wait to get in the kitchen.

The result is a lot of peanut buttery goodness punctuated by sweet creamy chips and salty roasted peanuts. I just really love them.

The cookie recipe is based on Ina Garten's recipe from the cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Parties.

triple peanut butter cookies

1/2 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup good smooth peanut butter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 10 oz. bag peanut butter chips
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped

1) Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

3) Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and peanut butter and mix. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and add it to the batter, mixing only until combined. Fold in the peanut butter chips and the rough-chopped peanuts. (I'm pretty committed to this "rough-chop" idea on this recipe. The idea is that you want the peanuts to be big enough to really get the crunchy bite.)

4) Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line your baking sheets with parchment paper.

5) Dop the dough on to the baking sheet with a rounded tablespoon or a 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop (my preference). You should be able to get 12 cookies per sheet, as these cookies do not spread too much. Once one sheet is filled, put the dough back into the fridge.

6) Get your hands a little bit damp and press down on the cookies just slightly to flatten them out a bit. Then, use the tines of a fork to press into the dough for the classic peanut butter cookie crosshatch.

7) If you prefer your peanut butter cookies on the soft side, bake for 17 minutes exactly. Like them a little more crispy? 19 minutes should do it. Either way, take great care to not over bake. Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit for a couple of minutes in the pan. Then, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday's poem: Lingering in Happiness by Mary Oliver

Lingering in Happiness

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear -- but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole's tunnel;

and soon as many small stone, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

- Mary Oliver

Monday, September 16, 2013

peach crunch pie

This pie is so over the top good, it will make you believe in homemade pie again: that the effort and sacrifice is worth it. Sweet peaches studded into a sour cream nutmeg scented custard, and topped with buttery cinnamon streusel? heaven.

And really, for a custard pie, this one is as easy as they come. The custard bakes together in the oven, so that making it is really assembling it. (This is unlike other custard pies that require to cook the custard in a double boiler and then let it cool in the refrigerator.)

I brought this pie to a 4th of July pool party at a friends house. It was such a lovely, relaxed afternoon- Harriet even went swimming for the first time! At the end, we all sat on the patio, eating pie in the shade and it was really the perfectness that you hope for in summer: good people, conversation and relaxation. I was very blessed that our friends opened up their home to us for the day.

So, if you find yourself with a few ripe peaches hanging around, I think this pie would make a splendid send-off to summer to enjoy with friends.

This recipe is from The Fiddlehead Cookbook.


1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 egg
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (if you can swing it, fresh ground is best)
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 cups peeled and thinly sliced fresh peaches or nectarines

Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I use pecans for the walnut-averse)
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter, cut into several pieces

1 unbaked single 9-inch pie crust:

My favorite pie crust recipe is Deb Perelman's All Butter pie crust recipe and her tips are very helpful. Find the recipe on here brilliant blog, The Smitten Kitchen, here.

1) Preheat oven to 450 F and place rack in center of oven.

2) For the filling: Stir together sour cream, egg, 1 cup sugar, vanilla extract, 1/4 cup flour, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in the peaches and pour into unbaked 9-inch pie shell. Seriously, how easy is that? No double burner, no stirring constantly and then chilling the custard. I love how simple this pie is.

3) Bake pie for 10 minutes at 450 F. Then, reduce the heat to 350 and bake for 10 more minutes. I think this initial baking time is just to help the custard cook up a bit before adding the crumb topping.

4) While pie is baking, prepare streusel topping:

Give the walnuts (or pecans) a rough chop. In a large bowl, stir together the nuts, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Cut the cold butter in with either a pastry cutter or a butter knife. The goal here is to chop the butter into pea sized pieces that are coated with the nut-sugar-flour mixture. At some point I usually transition from using the pastry cutter to using my (very clean) fingers to pinch it all together. (This is one of the reasons why you always want to start out with very cold butter. If at any point it starts to soften up on you, pause and put the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes.)

5) Take the pie out of the oven (leave the oven still on at 350 F) and sprinkle the topping evenly over. Then, put the pie back in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 more minutes. The goal is to bake until the majority of the pie seems a little puffed up (the center will not be), the juices are bubbling and the streusel topping is lightly browned. (Usually when I am sprinkling on the streusel topping, I take the opportunity to cover the crust with a piece of tinfoil to keep it from overcooking.)

6. Remove from oven, cool on a rack, and serve at room temperature; or refrigerate and serve cold. Store tightly wrapped in refrigerator. (Please note: it is normal for the filling to appear curdled. It does not impact the flavor at all. Also, should you be fortunate to have any leftovers, a slice makes a killer breakfast straight from the fridge the next day.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday's poem: Some Things, Say the Wise Ones by Mary Oliver

Some Things, Say the Wise Ones

Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say,
you live your life your way and leave me alone.

I have talked with the faint clouds in the sky when they
are afraid of being left behind; I have said, Hurry, hurry!
and they have said: thank you, we are hurrying.

About cows, and starfish, and roses, there is no
argument. They die, after all.

But water is a question, so many living things in it,
but what is it, itself, living or not? Oh, gleaming

generosity, how can they write you out?

As I think this I am sitting on the sand beside
the harbor. I am holding in my hand
small pieces of granite, pyrite, schist.
Each one, just now, so thoroughly asleep.

- Mary Oliver

Thursday, September 5, 2013

sour cream pancakes with peaches and birch syrup

Right now the peaches are pretty unbelievable. To be clear, I write this not as someone who is picking peaches from an orchard down the road nor as someone who visits a weekly farmers market and has a supplier providing a beautiful heirloom variety (I genuinely wish either of those things were true). No, I say the peaches are pretty unbelievable because the box of peaches at Trader Joes this year are very good peaches.

I did not grow up eating good peaches. By the time they made it to Alaska, the fruit was either still crunchy green or ripe beyond saving. It took me a while to get used to the soft luscious texture of ripe fruit. But one of the benefits of life in southern California is great produce.

I was sleeping in on a Sunday morning when my husband texted me from the living room to say he was craving pancakes (such is modern life). Knowing I had a handful of peaches at that just perfect state of ripeness on the counter was the motivation I needed to get up.

The pancake recipe is from Ina Garten. Her recipe is originally for sour cream banana pancakes, but I have pretty strong feelings about bananas. I left the banana out and what remains is a perfection of a pancake: light, barely sweet, with a bit of sour cream tang.

When I was a kid I thought my mom was crazy for putting sour cream on her pancakes instead of butter. She would put a little dollop on and then drizzle the syrup over. She told us it was a perfect contrast to the sweetness of the syrup. She was so very very right (about this and a number of other things).

One of my favorite summer memories is making these pancakes for my mom during a July visit. Just as I suspected, she loved them too.

Recipe from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Family Style Cookbook.

sour cream pancakes with peaches

recipe makes 12 pancakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
2 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I downgrade it to 1/4 teaspoon)
Unsalted butter

1) Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt all together into a medium bowl. Sifting seems like such a fiddly step until you don't do it and end up with a baking powder lump in your pancake.

2) In a separate bowl, whisk sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Next, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, taking care to mix only until combined.

3) In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Spoon the pancake batter into the pan (I find a 1/3 or 1/2 cup measuring cup perfect for this.) Once little bubbles begin to form and pop on the top, the pancake should be ready to flip (only takes a couple of minutes.) Flip the pancake and cook for another minute or so, until browned.

4) After each pancake, wipe out the pan, and add more butter for each fresh pancake. Continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used.

5) Top each pancake with a dollop of sour cream, a scoop of diced fresh peaches and maple or birch syrup.

For topping:

4 ripe peaches, diced and tossed with a tablespoon of sugar
Maple or birch syrup
1 pint sour cream

Enjoy a wonderful breakfast with family !

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September in So Cal is still summer (therefore, melon sorbet)

In So Cal, we are still in summer (like it or not) and while the rest of the states move on to cooler temperatures, I'll continue to enjoy these last vestiges of summer.

This week, I would like to share a few of my favorite recipes for enjoying the perfection that is summer produce.

Pictured above is a duo of cantaloupe sorbet and watermelon sorbet. I pureed and strained the fruit and then followed my standard sorbet recipe here. The main difference is that I use about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of pureed fruit and add 1/2 to 1 cup of simple syrup for the base mixture.

(Even Harriet was a big fan and as I was so focused on my camera frame, did not realize how close she had snuck up on the photography session until it was too late.)

I really liked the way the sorbet pictures turned out, so here are a few more (and an additional Harriet photobomb).

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday's poem: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to knell down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

- Mary Oliver