Sunday, February 28, 2010

Snow Day Cookies

Technically this recipe is not called Snow Day cookies--but that is how I will always think of them.  I had a snow day Friday.  Yes, that's right, a snow day!  I slept in a little bit, made these cookies, some soup and then watched a great movie, it was lovely.  I'd definitely been itching to make these cookies for a while now and I'm glad I did.  Not only are they very good, but they are also gluten free so my roommate can eat them!  Now of course this recipe has a story, so let me start at the beginning.

About a year and a half ago, I found a recipe in New York Magazine called "Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies".  I cut it out and put it in my recipe binder, the place where recipes I love or recipes I really want to try all live.  Then a few weeks ago, I was perusing and saw Heidi's Chocolate Puddle Cookies which looked very familiar.  Someone in the comments section of the website wrote that they they saw this recipe in NY Magazine a while back.  After I saw that, I went and found the old torn out recipe and lo and behold, they are the same cookie!!  Ok, well the recipes are a tiny bit different--Heidi's calls for 4 cups of sugar while NY Magazine's recipe calls for only 3.

Friday I had the time and energy to tackle this recipe--and tackle is the operative word here!  This is the type of recipe that requires care and attentiveness.  If you click the link above to 101cookbooks, you can read Heidi's recipe and her lengthy explanation about the temperamental nature of this cookie.  Basically, the cookies are finicky because they don't have flour.  You need to pay attention to two things--consistency of the batter and baking time.

Notes about consistency: Depending on the size of the eggs you use, you need to alter the amount of powdered sugar you use.  If you use jumbo size eggs, you will need to add more sugar, if you use smaller eggs, use less.  So I would advise starting with 3 cups of sugar (what the NY Magazine recipe calls for) and then if the batter is super runny, add more sugar about 1/3 a cup at a time.

Notes about baking: I added in a dash of cinnamon which I think gives them a nice flavor.  I also substituted pecans for walnuts since I had a bunch left over from Christmas baking.  I think they turned out really well with the nut substitution.  Spoon the batter out onto the parchment paper about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons per cookie and space them far apart since they spread.  Keep watching them once they go into the oven--although both recipes say to leave them in 12-16 minutes, I ended leaving them in for about 18-20 since they were still raw.  It is tricky to know when the cookies are ready, but here are the basic stages--first they will spread out, then they will get cracks on top but they will still have puddles of batter in the middle.  Once they sort of puff up on the top and middle and almost have the consistency of meringues, they are ready to come out.  Make sure you let them cool for a very long time.  You'll get the hang of it after a while and believe me, it is worth it.  The cookies are crunchy on the outside and soft and sort of gooey on the inside.  My roommate told me they tasted like brownies, which I think is a good description.

They are the perfect treat for a snow day, but would be perfect any day.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cincinnati is more than chili, but the chili is pretty good.

"Life is partly what we make it and partly it is made by the friends we choose."

I had a fabulous time in Cincinnati.  Although the last leg consisted of canceled flights, plane de-icing, and taking a train instead of a plane at one point, I refuse to let the craziness of the journey home color the wonderful extended weekend I had.  What a joy to spend time with Carin, Chris, her parents, and their animals.  It was a nice mix of relaxing and sightseeing and of course, there was plenty of eating!!  Remember when I said I rarely eat meat? That went right out the window, especially since I had to try the famous Skyline chili.  Oh and of course trying it meant eating it on top of a mini-hot dog.  I can't remember the last time I had one of those, but laden with meaty chili and cheese, it tasted pretty good!  Here I am, eating a "Coney" (after coney island I believe).


I decided to make chili tonight not only to honor Cincinnati, but because while I was there, Carin gave me her friend Kate's fabulous recipe for vegetarian chili which Kate made while I was visiting St. Louis a few years back.  I've honestly had that chili in the back of my head since then.  There are just countless recipes for chili--I've made oodles of different versions over time but I've never truly loved a recipe.  I think this particular recipe will become my go to chili recipe because it is so unique.  Also, I made some cornbread that I've been wanting to try from 101 cookbooks called "Firecraker Cornbread" which I have eaten before but never made.

Both recipes are fairly straightforward.  Follow the above link to find Heidi Swanson's cornbread.  I followed it as is, except I didn't have buttermilk on hand (who ever does??!!) so I substituted plain yogurt.  You'll just fall in love with it--yes, Jiffy mix is super easy, but this bread isn't all that difficult and the taste is worth it!  



And here is Kate's need to play around with the spices a lot since it's not exact.  The spice amounts listed here are a starting point--play around with it and add more as you go and according to what your tastes are.  OH! and also there is a secret to the recipe--beer.  Today all I had in the fridge was Sam Adams Cherry Wheat (which actually tastes nice) but you can use whatever you like.

(Yes that is basil from my Mom's garden, bottled with love)

Kate's Great Chili:
3 celery stalks
1 green pepper, 1 red pepper   
2 medium onions
a bunch of garlic

First chop up everything and saute them in a little oil in the bottom of a big soup pot.  When they look like they're getting soft, add the following to the pot:

2 16 oz. cans of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed 
2 16oz. cans of white (great northern) beans, drained and rinsed
2 32 oz. cans of chopped tomatoes
2 tsp cumin
3 tbsp. chili powder
dash cayenne pepper
2 tsp basil
2 tsp oregano
2 bay leaves
1/4 c cider vinegar

 Let this mixture simmer with the lid on for about an hour and a half, then add a can or bottle of beer, and simmer for half an hour more.  Throw in some whole cashews just before you serve it, as well as some cheddar cheese.


Monday, February 8, 2010

1.5 bags, part II

Knitting is very conducive to thought. It is nice to knit a while, put down the needles, write a while, then take up the sock again.  ~Dorthy Day

Almost two years ago, back in February of 2008, I took a trip to visit a friend living in St. Louis.  It was wonderful to visit Carin because I got to explore a wonderful mid western city I might never have seen otherwise, but I also enjoyed it because we have such a fantastic time together.  In all honesty, we could be in the middle of nowhere just hanging out doing nothing, and it would still be a great time.

In fact, we spent a fair amount of time during my visit doing just that--hanging out doing nothing!  It was very snowy that weekend in St. Louis and so it was a perfect time for both of us to work on crafts.  At that time, I had just started knitting a new bag.  Unfortunately that bag is still unfinished, a skeleton bag, stuffed in the bottom of my craft closet.  I am about to embark on another February visit to another mid western town to visit Carin (this time Cincinnati), so I think it is time that I pull out that half a bag and dust it off for the world to see.

Alright so what exactly is this 0.5 bag I have been referencing?  It is.......the plastic bag bag!!  Yes, that's right, it is a bag made of plastic bags (did that just blow your mind or what!?).  For those of you who hold on to oodles and oodles of bags from the grocery store, CVS, bodegas, Target, etc. etc., well this is a craft for you!!  It helps if you already have knitting experience--well actually you really must have knitting experience.  But you don't have to be an expert knitter to make this bag.....finishing it might be another story, since I haven't actually finished it yet!

Here are some photos of both sides of the bag (the right side and wrong side):



Ok, so there is a reason I haven't finished the bag yet, besides the lack of motivation--I can't decide which side I like better--the smooth side or the funky, knotted side.  I need to figure out which I was to be the inside of the bag and which to be the outside of the bag.  If you care to comment on which side of the bag you like as the outside of the bag (the part people will see) I would very much appreciate it!

Now for some basic instructions--I'm fairly certain that if you searched the internet, you'd probably get some insight into how to knit this bag, but I learned from a JVC staff member who knits these bags and other things out of recycled materials.  As I sit here thinking about how to explain making the "yarn" out of the bags, I realize some pictures might help:

First, you need to hold a bag width-wise, so that the handles are to your left and then cut a slit in the bottom, along the seam at the base of the bag.

Next, cut off the handles, you can either discard them or else save them to incorporate into the bag later on (that is how I get the knotted, chunky effect of the rough side of the bag).

 Once you do that, it is as if your bag is now just a big tube.

Holding the bag at the same orientation as before, make a cut all the way across (parallel to the base of the bag where the seam was) about 1/2 an inch up from the bottom.  Remember, you are cutting through two layers of plastic.  [I love this picture because the bag says to recycle and you are!]

Continue in this way making loops, but don't be too cautious about the loops--you don't have to be a perfectionist.  Just cut a bunch of loops, over time you will understand how thick or thin they have to be (a lot of it depends on the thickness of the actual plastic itself--some grocery bags are very thin so you need a thicker loop but some bags such as those from clothing stores are very thick so you need a much thinner loop).  

Keep cutting loops and then once you have a bunch, string them together by looping them through one another.


Get creative with the colors--trust me, you'll be searching out brightly colored bags everywhere!  I've grabbed them from friends' houses, from work, from people reading the New York Times!  You'll become a little obsessed with collecting the perfect color and thickness of bag.

To start in on the actual knitting, find a pair of circular knitting needles, I think mine are about a size 6.  You want something that is big enough so that it doesn't take forever to knit, but small enough so that little things can't slip through the bag.  The rest is truly trial and error--I don't remember how many stiches I cast on!  I just got going and then improvised.  It helps if you have knitted a bag on circular needles before this project, but if you haven't, just do a bit of research (Knitting for Dummies certainly has some info!).

You have to consider trying this really fun project.  Not only is it a great way to reduce, reuse, recycle, but it is a great conversation starter!  You'll get plenty of curious stares and people asking questions about your bag.  

I hope to finish (relatively) soon so that I can enjoy the fruits of my labor and also post some photos of the finished product.  Perhaps I'll find some motiviation in my quickly-approaching Cincinnati trip!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Holden Caulfield is my* ideal boy!

(*Not my ideal boy.  My mother's ideal boy. ) Well, not even really my mother but rather the teenage version of my mother.  You see, the copy of The Catcher in the Rye that I have was actually my mom's copy when she was in high school.  That alone would make it special; however, it is practically invaluable to me because her personal notes and thoughts are penciled in it.  Yes, my mother inscribed the inside cover with, "Holden Caulfield is my ideal boy!", in her curly, cursive, teen-aged handwriting.  Diving into the text, you will find other little notes she wrote, as well as the pencil markings of her favorite passages.

I just couldn't let the death of J.D. Salinger slip by without mention.  Of course I am sure he would be appalled by a blog entry written about him, but I'm not here to write about him or judge his seemingly strange actions after he became successful.  I mean, I sort of understand why he would want to become so reclusive.  Heck, sometimes I want to run away to a farm and escape modern life altogether too.  I definitely don't blame him for shunning the spotlight.  I do want to say that I am thankful for his writing (I was going to put his picture up here, but I read an article that reported how disgusted he was at seeing his picture over and over on the jacket of Catcher and so he asked the publisher to take it off!).  Anyhow, all this news about his death has unearthed my submerged affection for Holden Caulfield and Catcher.