Monday, December 16, 2013

Lemon Lime Butter Cookies

I'm probably in the minority, but I get tired of too much rich stuff and like something with a clean, bright taste when I've eaten too many chocolate things. I figured since I was sending a box of butter and sugar to the office, it might be nice for them to have something like that. Kind of a palate cleanser before moving on to the bourbon balls.

I adapted these from my Fine Cooking "Cookies" book. They're just the right amount of tart and sweet with a nice butter undertone that doesn't rub out the lemon and lime flavor.

I also like these because they were log cookies. Mix the dough, shape them into logs, roll them in sugar, wrap them in plastic and chuck them in the fridge for a couple of hours. Or freeze them and keep them on hand for a few months. When you're ready, cut them and bake them and you're done.

If you'd like to add them to your holiday baking repertoire, here is the .pdf.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

I'm not a fan of oatmeal cookies in general, because all too often, people sneak evil raisins in them. This version has cranberries, which are seasonal, festive, and not gross and disgusting. Bonus!

These cookies are quick to whip up, but they are a little fiddly because you have to roll them into balls and moosh them down. Still, there are worse things than having to lick cookie dough off your fingers. (After I finished rolling them all, of course.)

The finished cookie is soft and a little chewy and the cranberries give it a nice tart counterpoint, unlike raisins, which make oatmeal cookies vile.

If you'd like to add these to your holiday baking list, the .pdf of the recipe is here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cafe 305 Christmas Cookie Bonanza 2013

The halls are decked.

And it was the first weekend in December, which meant it was time for Annual Cookie Baking Weekend!

Every year except last year, when I was in Canada and didn't have a proper kitchen or a chest of krugerrands for shipping, I bake a ton of cookies and send them in to my colleagues back at the office in Atlanta. I've been doing this since I physically worked in the office. Although when I worked there, I didn't ship them, obviously.

In preparation for the day, first off, I did my workout. I'm not a big sweets person, and I'm not a nibbler, but I swear I can gain five pounds through osmosis if you put me in a room with butter and sugar all day. After that, I ran the vacuum, to minimize the amount of dog hair in the food. Note I said "minimize". It's impossible to completely prevent some hair from inadvertently landing in cookie dough somewhere. I mean, look at him.

He makes a Yeti look like a Chihuahua.

I try, is what I'm saying. But if you wind up with some small bit of shaggy dog in your edibles from 305, just remember, it was free, so you can't call the Health Department on me.

I cleaned the kitchen all spotless. Then someone decided he needed to come in and make lunch and get stuff all over the counters and in the sink again.

Bad timing.

I cleaned it up again (although to be fair, he cleaned up most of his mess - it just delayed my start). Then I was ready for prep.

Cooling racks - check. Mixer - check. My favorite scraper paddle for baking - check.

Eleventy hundred pounds of butter - check. Glass of water - check. Baking is thirsty business.

Fine Cooking's Cookie Cookbook - check. Christmas playlist - check.

Apron - check.

I was ready!

I will be posting a cookie a day for the next several days. For starters, though, here are my personal kitchen rules and some things I've learned over the years that help keep me organized when I'm doing a big baking day like this.

1. Most important rule of all: CLEAN AS YOU GO. There is nothing worse to me than finishing up six hours of cooking and standing there with an aching back surveying the aftermath of ... well, six hours of cooking. I've always had very small kitchens, and counter space runs short fast. I don't have the luxury of piling dirty dishes everywhere. So I clean up after almost every step. Saves me a mid-day shut down to clean a space off the counter. Put stuff back as soon as you've finished using it, even if you're going to use it again. I understand the whole mis-en-place thing, and I know it works for most people, but if I had to put out a bunch of little bowls and cutting boards in an assembly line all along the counter, I'd have to rearrange furniture in the dining room and start my cooking line in the living room. Plus, the clutter would probably make my head explode.

2. Look through the recipes and plan ahead. For today's baking, I had three doughs that needed to be refrigerated, and three that didn't. So I made the refrigerator doughs first so I could toss them in the fridge and let them chill while I baked the other cookies.

3. If you happen to be lazy, like me, choose your recipes carefully. I deliberately avoid stuff that's really fiddly, things that make a huge mess and use a bunch of bowls, things that involve melting chocolate (see "huge mess"), and ANYTHING that needs to be decorated. I just don't have the patience or the skill for it. I realize that makes me not exactly a top-notch baker, but I'll leave that to the Abby Dodges of the world, (several of her recipes I used today), and admire her from the back row of the baking short bus. One thing I've discovered is that these refrigerator doughs are awesome for a multiple-recipe baking day. Mix the dough, chill it, and after you've made the more labor-intensive cookies that need to be rolled into balls or dropped or whatever, you pull those bad boys out of the fridge, grab a shiv, and shank those bitches - wait - just slice them. This strategy keeps me from getting homicidal around 3:30 PM. Mostly.

4. If you have a stand mixer, invest in a second bowl. It has been a wonderful luxury having two. This does not undo my "clean as you go" rule, but I finish with one, wash it, put it on the rack to dry, and use the other one. Then when I wash the one I just used, the one on the rack is dry and ready. It really speeds things up.

5. If you live in the South, get cooling racks. Seriously. My baking day was rainy and damp and warm. Even with having A/C running part of the day, it still gets a little damp in the house. If you pull warm cookies out of the oven and leave them on parchment on the counter, they stick and sag a lot worse than when you pop them on a cooling rack so the air can cool them all around.

6. This is just something I observed yesterday. I've cooked for a bunch of years with a regular oven. Meaning not convection. And when it came time to remodel, I almost didn't get a convection oven, but I finally did. Since then, I've used the convection oven for this particular cookie baking extravaganza, and man has it saved me a lot of time and again, murderous rampages. I can bake three sheets of cookies at one go, and with minimal interference from me, they all cook evenly. I don't use it for much else, but it's worth it just for that.

If you want to follow along for the next few days, wander back over to Café 305 and see if any of the cookies strike your fancy. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Great Slump of 2013

Many, many days and weeks have passed since my last blog post. And there were a lot of days between that one and the one before. And the one before that. I'm not sure what's been wrong with me, but my moxie has gone missing. I haven't had anything interesting to write, and dinner has become about getting something on the table instead of a creative outlet. Am I jaded? Am I bored? Am I tapped out?

The other night, Pootie even went so far as to suggest I start cooking from recipes again. I briefly considered setting him on fire, but that would have made a mess, and I would have missed him later. Probably.

Don't get me wrong. I've loved having my kitchen back, and my grill, and I cook dinner almost every night. It isn't bad, it's just not impressive. 

But on Thanksgiving, I got a hint of the old spark back. Cooking the turkey and dressing this year and breaking out my grandmother's embroidered tablecloth and napkins started to make me want to get back in the kitchen and really cook, not just put a meat, carb and vegetable on the plate.

Then the day after Thanksgiving, Pootie came in the office and said magic words that put me all the way back in the game:

"Do you want to go get a Christmas tree today?"

I have always loved the holidays, and this is the time of year I usually get really inspired and want to make a bunch of fancy stuff and throw down.

But this was Christmas before last:

And this was last Christmas:

Not exactly Norman Rockwell years.

Pootie usually tries to put the brakes on me when I want to put a tree up after the Fourth of July, but this year he was actually suggesting we put up a tree while it was still November. Unprecedented!

We went tree-hunting with our wonderful neighbors, Morgan and Jesse. And no, it wasn't just so we could use their truck. This is Sutton's first Christmas.

We claimed our trees in pretty short order.

Then we put our beauty up and got cracking.

We kind of have a theme.

 I kind of went on kind of a decorating free-for-all with my newfound holiday spirit.

Basically, if it wasn't moving, it fell victim to a frenzied excess of holiday cheer.

And sometimes it hit things that didn't exactly stand still.

Hopefully, it will take, and I'll continue to feel upbeat, creative, and motivated past Monday. We'll see.

Meanwhile, here's a recipe for Apple Sambo, which is a richer, tastier version of spiced cider to kick off your holiday season.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sailing and Lime Rum Shrimp

This past weekend, we rented a Hobie Tandem Island and took off for an afternoon of fun on the water.


It's a perfect boat for around here, because you can pedal/paddle it or sail it, or even shove it around with a regular paddle if you run aground on an oyster bed. Or four. Not that we'd know anything about that.

You can also pull it up to a beach for lunch.

It's a decent leg workout, and honestly a lot more comfortable than kayaking.

And she'll go like nobody's business with a stiff breeze. Unless you're stuck on an oyster bed. Which can cause cursing, harsh accusations, and name-calling. Of course I've only heard about that second-hand.

After a full afternoon, which may or may not have involved a few oyster beds and some colorful language, we turned the boat back in and headed home. Maybe it was in icy silence... maybe it wasn't.

We fished for shrimp (at Harris Teeter) and I figured something tropical would be appropriate. I also thought lacing it with rum might soothe someone's hurt feelings a little. I might or might not have lost my temper on one of those theoretical oyster beds.

Lime-Rum Shrimp is one of my favorite ways to cook shrimp in the summer. It's also a very quick dinner.

Peel and devein about a pound of fresh shrimp. Zest one lime, and mince 3 cloves of garlic. Put a large pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle a little olive oil in the pan and add the shrimp and the garlic and the lime zest. Sprinkle with kosher salt. And don't be stingy with it. When the shrimp start to cook, add a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar, the juice of the lime you zested, and about 2 tablespoons of dark rum. I ordinarily use Meyer's but we were out, so I used Gosling's dark. 

Pour a separate glass of rum over ice and take it to the person you may or may not have yelled at if you need to suck up a little.

I like to serve this over coconut rice. To make that, just make rice the same way you always do, but substitute half chicken stock and half canned coconut milk for the water. It also goes well with pineapple slaw.

Here's the .pdf if you'd like to take this one on a test sail in your own kitchen.

I'd recommend avoiding oyster beds.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kids' Sleepover and Ebelskivers

Sometimes we like to borrow other people's children and pretend to be responsible adults - just for a change of pace. Since we recently reinstated the guest bedroom, we decided to snag Ned and Melissa's kids for the weekend.

We picked them up midday and after a quick lunch at a sub place, we went to Greenfield Lake for some paddle boating.

Greenfield Lake is right in the middle of town. It's full of old cypress trees, turtles, and herons. I made the kids man the pedals with Pootie. I had to take pictures.

We puttered around a looked at nature and chatted for a while. I also made friends with other boaters. Well, their dogs anyway. These guys came along and I said "Well, hello! Are you having a good time!?" Pootie didn't even look up. He looked at Liza and said, "There must be a dog in that boat. Andie doesn't talk to people." The guy paddling thought I was talking to him, though, so I had to speak human for a minute. But the dog told me he was having a fabulous time. And that his name was "Shifting Ballast".

I am also called "he who upsets canoes" in my native tongue.

It was a typical August day in the South, which means hot and muggy. Getting in the water is not recommended.

I think the alligators played a part in hiding this in the bushes.

So we stayed in the safety of the boat. And sweated. Poor Levi was about to melt.

After about an hour, we took them back to the house to cool down and make them drink water. We spent the rest of the afternoon in air conditioned comfort, playing games and recuperating. And sending the occasional picture to their parents.

Totally staged, but worth it.

Dinky was stoked to have company. So much so that after the movie, he refused to get down from their bed. I got up around 2:00 AM and he was sacked out right in the middle. About half an hour later, he managed to wake Liza by rocking the bed with his panting, and she asked me to get him down. That took a while. Then he tried to get back up there, so I had to lock him out. He wasn't very happy with me. But the kids slept better.

For breakfast, I decided to make them Ebelskivers. When I was their age, I had a friend whose mom was of Danish descent and she had a very old Ebelskiver pan and used to make them for breakfast after sleepovers. I rediscovered them a few years ago. I've made them for dessert several times. Today I had a helper.

We filled hers with Nutella and Levi's with peanut butter. They were definitely a hit.

Yes, that's my furry child rinsing the dishes in the background. He's such a help!
The rest of the morning was leisurely and sprawl-y and I learned how to raise dragons on my iPad, thanks to Levi. The things these young people can teach you.

I'm hoping the Ebelskivers will butter them up so they won't mind being borrowed again. I'd hate for my dragon farm to fail. Maybe next time Liza can make them on her own and Levi and I can go to town on some Dragonvale.

If you'd like to make Ebelskivers for your little people, or your big people, you can find the recipe here. (Note: I've tried them with standard pancake batter without folding in the egg whites, and they aren't nearly as good.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013


We've been home a couple of months now (92 days and 22 1/2 hours, but who's counting?) and we've been digging ourselves in and rolling around to get the smell all over us. Well, that last part is mostly Dinky, but I expect by now we probably do smell like our house again.

You know about all the projects that are still ongoing... (or stalled, which is driving Pootie bananas). But we've also been doing a lot of this.

And enjoying the Southern summer and this.

And this.

And this.

I've also been getting my Southern Cook on. I've fried chicken, made grits, and drunk my share of bourbon. Damn, it's good to be home.

Of course, I also needed to honor an old Southern tradition (or Northwestern, or Eastern or wherever, because I think this is pretty much the case everywhere) and cook for my neighbor, who had a baby while I was gone. Against my orders.

Dr. Morgan had a lovely time with adorable baby Sutton for a while, but her patients needed her, so she had to go back to work. Since I wasn't here to ease the early parenthood burden with a roasted chicken and a Jell-O fruit salad, I decided it would probably be good to take an opportunity to refill my Southern Karma and cook dinner for her and Jesse her first night back from work. I've only had puppies, but I know how much it sucked to leave one at home and go to work, so I can only imagine it's exponential in the case of a tiny human. Because the babies don't even temper the angst by eating your shoes, peeing on your carpet, and shredding your toilet paper while you're gone. I'm pretty sure it's illegal to leave them in a situation where they might do that. Also, Sutton doesn't have teeth yet.

Since I was feeling all banging screen door iced tea and mint julep-y, I went for a spice-rubbed barbecued chicken thighs, my grandmother's barbecue sauce, slaw, and cheddar biscuits.

The spice rub is really simple. Mix 3 tablespoons of brown sugar with a teaspoon of kosher salt, a teaspoon of paprika, a teaspoon of dried oregano, a teaspoon of garlic powder, two tablespoons of chili powder, and a teaspoon of dried cumin. Then sprinkle that over chicken thighs and roast them on a grill that's around 400 degrees. I do not enjoy cleaning the grill, so I always toss everything on a foil and parchment-lined roasting pan.

I got that all done, simmered my grandmother's sauce, mixed together the slaw and the biscuit dough, then got everything ready to leave next door. (It's great having access to the neighbor's key.)

Then I poured myself a small glass of bourbon, and sat back to enjoy the gardenias.

Then we went out to eat Chinese.

If you'd like to make the chicken for your neighbor, here's the .pdf. And here's the .pdf for the barbecue sauce. Genuine Arkansas.