Thursday, March 31, 2011

Perfectly Peanut Butter

Yesterday I made peanut butter cookies. There was a time in my life where I didn't like peanut butter cookies. Which is odd for several reasons. One being that I have yet to meet a person who doesn't like peanut butter cookies (those with allergies aside). Another is that I love peanut butter and I love cookies, so you'd think the two together would create my ultimate love. Not the case. All this in spite of my tendency to eat peanut butter straight out of the jar.

But then I started working at this place called Sweet Flour, where we make the most divine peanut butter cookies. And well, I sort of fell in love with peanut butter cookies.

Since I am surrounded by peanut butter cookies at work I haven't felt the need to make them at home. But yesterday I was sitting on the couch, browsing through my Harrowsmith cookbook for a good cookie recipe and the peanut butter cookies caught my eye.

Carlene Blankenship, who submitted this recipe to Harrowsmith (a magazine, for those of you who have never heard of it), calls them Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies, and I am inclined to agree. They are delicious. And easy.

Now I have an admission to make. I didn't technically follow the recipe. And it wasn't until after the batter was mixed that I even realized I hadn't. As previously mentioned, I make cookies at work. So when I get a recipe for standard drop cookies I tend not to really read through the recipe. Which is bad because, no matter what, you should always read through a new recipe before starting. Even if you're sure the entire quantity of sugar is supposed to be creamed in at the beginning.

Anyway, as you can see, they turned out fine. I don't actually think it makes that much of a difference, but the next time I make them I'll do it properly. And if you make them before I do, properly, without my apparently haughty I-don't-need-recipe-instructions attitude, let me know how they turn out.

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup pack brown sugar (divided)
1 egg
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Cream butter, peanut butter, white sugar, and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda and salt, then beat in. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar on top of dough and fold in so sugar granules are still visible. (Yes, that was the bit I missed when I made them)
Scoop dough using a 1" ice cream scoop (or just roll them into tablespoon sized balls) and press into 1/4"-thick circles on a baking tray. Bake at 375F for 10 minutes.

You don't actually need to use a fork to press the cookies, but there's something that is just very peanut butter cookies about using a fork. I have a memory of pressing peanut butter cookies as a child and, despite my dislike of peanut butter cookies at the time, I remember feeling like it was something special, putting the finishing touches on those cookies. I can't even remember who was making them, just the fork pressing into the dough to make those distinguishing cross-hatches.

So I would recommend using a fork, if just for nostalgic purposes.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sea and Sun

Ah, sun and warmth. I had almost forgotten what they felt like. I have used the past week to acclimatize to the cold after coming back from the Bahamas, the beautiful, sunny, warm Bahamas. It is raining right now. And I wish I was back here.

It really was just what the doctor ordered. Apart from some unfortunate food poisoning on my sister's part and some inordinately itchy sand fly bites. But it was nice to get away from the cold and snow for a while. The moment we stepped off the plane it smelled like summer. Like heat, and earth, and sweet flowers on the air. Heady and humid and the greatest relief from the persistent chill of home.

These vacations never last long enough. Especially when you come home to a fresh layer of snow. Especially when I managed to avoid sustaining any serious sunburns (a feat previously unheard of when I'm in tropical climes). Especially when the water is this blue.

For the most part we stayed on the resort, lying by the pool, walking on the beach, drinking margaritas and pina coladas at 11:00 am. And all that was fantastic. I finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo and unblocked some serious writer's block that I'd had going on. Already I'm 9000 words into my next book. It's amazing what a little sun and relaxation will do.

But let's be honest. The reason I'm mentioning this vacation here at all is because of food. The day we went into town for some shopping we stopped for lunch at this little Italian restaurant called Cafe Matisse. It was tucked away in the midst of some legal buildings, it's walls covered in the lively, colourful works of Matisse.

It was here that my family and I made a rather important discovery: we're not really resort people. While the resort food was decent, it had nothing on this place. This home of the best calamari I've ever tasted. Of beautifully plated decadence and food that you could continue eating long after you're full. We are absurdly spoiled food snobs. But I'm okay with it. We know better now. It's not just that we want to go to different restaurants when we travel, I think we need to. Isn't that part of the fun of traveling?

But I'm holding you in suspense, aren't I? You want to know what this beautiful concoction of red and green is. Well let me tell you. This dessert is avocado mousse with raspberry coulis. It was easily one the best things I've ever tasted. The term mousse is used rather loosely here I think. It wasn't actually set with anything as a mousses usually is. It had more of the consistency of slightly runny pudding. I wish I had a better way of describing it because I fear nothing I say is really going to do it justice. It was smooth and subtly sweet. Avocados lend such an unbelievable buttery texture to everything that it was like eating liquid silk. Sweet, creamy liquid silk.

The raspberry coulis provided a lovely tangy quality that offset the sweetness, but if I were to make this, I wouldn't put as much of it. You have to dig quite a bit through the coulis before you get to the avocado. If you ever go to Nassau, Bahamas, I insist that you cannot miss this. Order the calamari and the avocado mousse. You won't be disappointed.

On a completely separate and unrelated note, I do not forget the last promise I made to provide a recipe this post. So here is one for some cookies I made a few days before we left for vacation. They are Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chunk Cookies from Martha Stewart and they got rave reviews from everyone that tried them. They're like a hybrid between chocolate chip cookies and banana bread. Truly warm and comforting on a cold day.

Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chip Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
1 cup rolled oats
8 ounces chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine flours, salt, and baking soda in a bowl.
Cream butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Mix in banana. Add flour mixture and mix just until combined. Add oats, chocolate, and nuts.
Using a 1 1/2 inch ice cream scoop, or two spoons, drop dough onto a baking sheet about an inch apart. Bake 13 minutes.

This recipe doubles easily without being excessively large. It will still fit nicely in your large mixing bowl. Also, I used pecans instead of walnuts, since that's what I had in the cupboard. I also didn't have enough chocolate, but that's the glorious thing about what gets mixed into a dough. The quantities aren't really important. So pour a glass of milk and enjoy!