Sugar Cookie Memories

The new year always gets me thinking about past years and how far I’ve come. This year I got thinking about my Memere, who passed away from Alzheimers in 2006 a few months before I graduated college. She was an amazing woman who spoke English and French. Maine French, not Parisian French, and it was her first language. She often said things in double though not a stutter, and with an adorable accent. She was an incredible seamstress, a gardener, a stay at home mother to four boys, conservatively dressed but funny as heck, a cribbage player, a baker, a cook, an amazing wife for over 50 years who walked 3 miles every single morning with my Pepere, a loving mother, a spitfire, a “show your love with food” kind of lady, subtly sassy, a believer in God more than anything else, and a confidence builder. We grew up about 5 hours away from her, but I always looked forward to visiting her. My cousin Lisa and I would hide under her sewing table in our “cave” play with her buttons and read books together while the wood-stove was roaring. Stories have it that after she passed away and my Pepere stopped his daily walking routine people’s schedule all over town got messed up. They knew when they saw D&L it meant it was time to get the kids up, get the coffee on, get in the shower, get to work, or whatever it was that needed to be done at the precise minute they went by everyday.

One of my favorite memories was walking in to the smell of freshly baked warm sugar cookies. These weren’t just any sugar cookies, they were huge, and fluffy as all get out, chewy but still with a nice crisp on the outside.

In other words, they were absolutely fantastic. To this day I, and no one else I know of, has ever made them the same. It’s one of my life goals to find a way to recreate them so my kids and grand-kids can experience them too. Her cookies were at least double the size of the ones below, and about twice to three times as high. My mouth waters and I still smile when I think of them, even though I haven’t eaten them in almost 8 years.

I’m going to keep on trying to recreate these.  Once I do, I’ll share the recipe with you.

Until then, I’ll keep making them like this—from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, but subbing half to a quarter of the butter for vegetable oil. I do it because it helps keep them soft long after they cool.

Also, until then I’ll keep eating them like this. Okay, I might even eat them like this long after I get the recipe right.

I bet Memere would have approved.

I miss her a lot, I think we all do. She’s was a strong bond in the family. I’d like to think if we could sit down and talk now as two women I would find out we were a lot alike. She taught me a lot, more in the last 6 months of her life than she will ever know. She also called that I would marry Andy. We got engaged years later while I was wearing her sweater and in the parking lot of the mill she had worked at as a teenager. I didn’t know this until after it happened. She will always have my heart.

Here’s to keeping family traditions alive and the stories they bring with them,  no matter how long it takes to get it right.

Much Love,

Heather

 

Chocolate Almond Butter & Coconut No-Bake Cookies

My favorite cookie is a homemade oatmeal raisin chewy cookie, so it’s no surprise I love these oatmeal based no-bake cookies too. I have memories of making them with my mom and grabbing one before it was fully set up so I could eat the warm oatmeal deliciousness.

These are still my favorite cookies to make. It may or may not have to do with the fact that I am baking challenged. I mean, I can bake, I’m just rather impatient with it and I am constantly altering recipes. Note: altering recipes works beautifully with cooking most of the time, with baking it’s a little more finicky. The thing I love about these no-bakes is that as long as you following the recipe basics it’s highly customizable for the most part. It would be super easy to make these using an almond or soy milk – or baileys. You can add pecans, walnuts or raisins. Top the hot cookies with a slice of a fresh strawberry, etc. There are so many options, which makes these fun.

Oh, and they take under 10 minutes to make.

I decided tonight to make a small batch of these to bring to our huge Thanksgiving tomorrow for dessert, along with a cheese/olive/salami platter for appetizers. Let me inform you that a small batch of these is enough. I’ll take photos of the dessert spread tomorrow and you’ll understand.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp Baking Cocoa Powder (not hot cocoa)
  • 2 cups of Sugar
  • 1 stick of Butter
  • 1/2 cup of Milk
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla
  • 2 cups of Almond Butter (or Peanut Butter)
  • 3 cups of Quick Oatmeal
  • Shredded Coconut (optional)
  • Wax Paper
  • Ice Cream Scoop (optional)

Directions

1.) In a largish non-stick pot (if available) add the cocoa powder, sugar, butter, milk and vanilla over medium heat. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring to keep from burning and to dissolve all ingredients. While this is going roll out a large sheet of wax paper, about a foot or so.

2.) Add in your almond/peanut butter. If you are using natural almond/peanut butter make sure to heat it first and stir until smooth so it can incorporate properly. If you get chunks that won’t dissolve use an immersion blender to break them up. I had this issue as I had never used almond butter before, but heating it separately would have solved the issue.

3.) Once all ingredients are incorporated and smooth add the quick oatmeal and quickly stir to coat. This stuff sets up fast so get on it.

4.) Use the ice cream scoop and drop cookies on the wax paper. If you want, tap the top down with a fork.

If you’re using the coconut there are three ways (I can think of) that you can add it in. No matter what you choose it will be ridiculously delicious.

  • Toast it under the broiler and then top the cookies while still hot, slightly tap into the top of the cookie.
  • Keep it raw and top the cookies while still hot, slightly tap into the top of the cookie.
  • Toss it in with the oatmeal in step 3.

These are absolutely best while still warm. I highly suggest hovering like a bee over a flower and then making a dash for the goods once they are set up enough to easily pop off of the wax paper. Add a big glass of your favorite kind of milk, and wait for it. You feel that? That’s the feeling of pure delight. I suggest not worrying about the sugar and butter in these since they are a treat, not a regular.

XO,

Heather

 

Super Simple Roasted Butternut Squash

It may still be technically Summer, but for all intents and purposes it is most definitely Autumn in Maine. The fog is rolling in on the hayfield and the frost is about to set in soon. It’s one of my favorite seasons for a few reasons. One, it’s chunky sweater weather. Two, the trees are about to burst in a gorgeous collaboration of color. Three, the butternut squash is ready.

Roasted butternut squash is good for a multitude of things, and can be made in a multitude of ways. However, I am going to tell you my very favorite recipe. Brace yourself, it’s super ridiculously simple.

Roasted Butter Nut Squash

Ingredients:

  • Butternut squash
  • 1/2  stick of butter (for two butternut squash, four halves)
  • Brown Sugar (to taste)

Not kidding. Those are the ingredients. You’ll also need an oven for the whole roasting part of the recipe, some tinfoil for easy cleanup and cookie sheet or cake pan. Whatever you use, it needs to have sides on it.

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line your pan with tinfoil and set aside.
  • Chop the top and bottom end off of the butternut squash with a sharp knife so it sits flat on it’s bottom. Be careful, the skin is notoriously tough. I have never had an issue, but I’ve heard it can be hard. Butternut Squash does not merit a flesh wound.

  • Stand the butternut squash on it’s bottom and carefully slice it in half. Scoop out the seeds until the flesh is clean.

  • Melt butter either on the stove top (be careful not to burn the butter), or in a microwavable dish.
  • Pour butter into tinfoil lined pans.
  • Place the halves of butternut squash flesh side down onto the melted butter in your pan. Deliciousness will start to infuse into your squash immediately.

  • Roast for approximately 50 minutes. When you can easily pierce the squash with a fork, it’s done.
  • Pull out of the oven and turn the broiler on.
  • Flip the squash flesh side up. Sprinkle the top of the squash with brown sugar and place back under the broiler until the sugar very lightly melts/caramelizes.

Now, here’s the best part. Just eat it warm right out of the skin. If you prefer you can peel the skin off and puree or mash it up. However, I’m a purist. I either like it straight out of the skin, or with a little brown sugar toasted on top. It’s incredibly easy, incredibly healthy (especially if you nix the sugar, since it’s so sweet anyway) and wonderful. It works well on it’s own, or paired with a simple pasta salad.

The beauty of this is how simple it is. Food shouldn’t have to be complicated and this is the epitomy of simplicity and deliciousness.

Here’s to a roasty, toasty Fall,

Heather

In The Dark Chocolate Cake

One week ago Irene hit up here in Maine. Branches were down, power was out and a tree fell across from the house, though fortunately it didn’t fall across the house. It wasn’t too bad up here, and thankfully we have a generator. This meant we could turn it on to keep the fridge cool every few hours. We lost no food because of this; we actually lost no food because I haven’t been grocery shopping in forever. Plenty of pantry staples and a generator meant we were all set.

We were able to get the lights on so we could finish repairing the drywall and priming in our common room, people could shower, chocolate cakes could be baked.

Only the essentials.

Specifically a Devil’s Food Cake with a Hot Fudge Ganache(esque) and Sea Salt.

I would like to take this moment to note that I officially baked a cake without a.) any part of the cake breaking and b.) that was unbelievably tasty. This is huge.

Devils Food Cake (From Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, directions paraphrased from book)

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  1. Let eggs and butter get to room temp, about 30 minutes. Grease two 9 1/2 inch round cake pans (I like to grease it all, put parchment on the bottom, and then grease on top of the parchment again. Then lightly flour the sides in some of the dry cake mix. The cake slips right out). Set aside pans.
  2. In a medium bowl mix together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350*.  In another bowl (preferably a kitchen-aid-esque deal) beat butter for about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup sugar at a time until fully incorporated. Scrape sides of bowl, beat 2 more minutes. Add eggs one at a time (it’s easier to break these into a bowl first so you don’t get shells in your batter). Beat in vanilla. Add flour and milk alternately. Keep scraping sides down so all is incorporated.  Beat on high for 20 seconds. Spread into prepared pans.
  4. Bake 30-35 until tester comes out clean.
  5. Cool layers for about 10 minutes. Remove from pans. Despite what this recipe says to do – do not cool thoroughly. You want the cakes to be warm so they can soak in the ganache.

Hot Fudge Ganache-Esque (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, No-Cook Fudge Frosting)

  • 1 pound powdered sugar (about 4 cups)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • A little reserved boiling water
  1. Place sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl and combine well. Add butter, boiling water and vanilla to mixer. Slowly add dry mix, on low speed, until fully combined. The frosting should fully coat a spoon, but still fall off in almost sheets.

Assembling

How the cake looks when you start adding the hot topping.

If you are layering your cakes, put the first layer on your plating dish.  (I used a plate and only did a single layer, but if you want to get fancy use a cake stand). I recommend putting the bottom layer rounded side down, if you don’t trim the entire cake flat. The top layer should be placed flat side down so it all sits flush and even. If you are layering them, I recommend cutting the round off the bottom layer so it’s entirely flat – but you’re call. Lord knows I wouldn’t do that. I would love every ounce of that tippy delicious cake.

  1. Perforate the top of your cake a bunch with a fork to help soak in the fudge ganache-esque topping
  2. Place a few large spoons of the hot topping on the warm cake and spread gently with the back of the spoon, working in circles to the edges of your cake. Continue until the cake has slowed on soaking in (when you cut it, you’ll see it’s soaked about 1/2 to 3/4 of the cake through). The frosting will be cooling during this time, as will the cake and it will start to sit on top of the surface, this is what you want.
  3. Continue until you reach your desired amount. Sprinkle the top with coarse sea salt.
  4. If you are laying, place your second layer and follow the steps above. If you want a prettier top, feel free to leave out the fork marks (this will just reduce how much is soaked in). Finish with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt.


This was so incredibly tasty. Immediately after finishing the topping Mr. A walked out to the garage and turned off the lights. I however, enjoyed a tasty, delicious, dense with soaked in topping, moist piece of cake by candlelight. Or, specifically – oil lamp.

So next time a storm is brewing your way, remember the essentials:

  • Water
  • Batteries
  • Charged Cellphone
  • Ingredients for Chocolate Cake

I hope you all were safe and well in the storm down south, and in NH/VT where it really was severe in a lot of places, whether from wind or rain. I send you guys all lots of love and prayers.

Take Care,

Heather

Strawberry{licious} Pie

Note: This is the first time I made the Pate Brisee crust on a super hot summer day. Needless to say it got soft very fast from a chilled state, and wasn’t the easiest thing to roll out because of the softness. It’s still delicious but be careful not to get it too thin like I did. Roll it around your rolling pin and onto your greased pie pan. Or, use a different recipe. Or, make pie in the winter. Or, eat up and who cares anyway.

Earlier this summer we picked 12 pounds of strawberries, which I promptly processed and vacuum froze for smoothies. Really though, all I wanted was pie. I have yet to make a single strawberry smoothie but the thought of pie is staring me down every time I open that freezer. Consider it done.

I started off with my very favorite pie crust ever, Pate Brisee. I love it because it’s versatile and delicious. I adapt my recipe from the Martha Stewart version. Her version doesn’t call for any spices in the crust besides sugar and salt. When I use it as a savory crust I like to add a teaspoon of herbs which compliment the filling. When I use it as a sweet pie crust I like to add a 1/2 teaspoon cake or pumpkin pie spice for just a little kick. This is just my preference.

Pate Brisee Pie Crust {adapted from Martha Stewart}

Ingredients

  •  2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cake spice
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup ice water
Directions
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, sugar and cake spice. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.
  2. Slowly add water through the feed tube while the machine is turned on. Pulse until dough holds together. The dough should not be wet or sticky, but should still hold together if squeezed. If it is crumbly, add more ice water a teaspoon or so at a time. I find that 1/4 a cup is sometimes too much.
  3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.
Ingredients
  • 1 quart strawberries or 1 large package frozen strawberries, thawed and drained (reserve drained juice)
  • 3/4 cup reserved juice, or water
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup reserved juice, or water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup sliced berries, fresh or frozen, thawed and drained
  • whipped cream
  • whole berries for garnish
Directions
  1. Combine strawberries and water in saucepan. Cook until just softened, about 4 or 5 minutes. (Let frozen berries thaw; heat but don’t cook them.)
  2. Mix together cornstarch, sugar, and water until smooth; add to hot berries. Cook over medium heat until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved.
  3. Add lemon juice; immediately remove from heat and let cool.
Assembling
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Thaw one of the crusts and roll into a 9 inch round. Grease the bottom of the pie pan and lay the crust on the bottom.
  3. Partially bake the bottom crust on 425 F for about 15-20 minutes. Pull out of the oven and fill with the Strawberry filling.
  4. Cover with foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  5. Let cool so it sets up – if you can wait.
Happy Pie Making In A Hopefully Cooler Kitchen,
Heather