Friday, May 28, 2010

Let's eat!

Tell me I'm a good dancer and I know you're humoring me. Tell me I'm a good cook and I might agree with you. I think I'm good at it because I enjoy baking and feeding people--probably because my family tends to love what I cook.

That's pretty natural, I think. I remember loving my mother's cooking and, years ago in her honor, I assembled a cookbook with our family recipes. My maternal grandmother's family hailed from Holland and she was one of four sisters: Anna, Grace, Frieda and Jane (aka: Antje Jacoba, Greitje, Fredericka and Martha Jane). So, because I'm also quite creative when it comes it naming things (We have a goldfish named Goldie, if that tells you anything.), I titled it Four Sisters Cookbook. Every woman in my extended family submitted recipes, and I bound them together so we'd have a shared recipe cache.

Over the past 12 months I've probably purchased more cookbooks than I have in my lifetime. Through recommendations from friends, I've gotten to know The Pioneer Woman and The Cake Mix Doctor.

My daughter and I have played Hello, Cupcake! and my friend Tracy introduced me to A Passion for Baking. Girlfriend Jennifer bought me the Cook's Country Cookbook, which is a treasure trove of kitchen-tested recipes. This doesn't include the few recipes I've purloined from the Internet.

Recently my friend Joan had surgery, so I opened Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader and whipped up a batch of Puny's Chicken and Dumplings--good for anything that ails you and sometimes when you're just plain hungry. On my Need-to-Bake-for list are: my daughter's teacher, the crossing guard who has managed to keep hundreds of children and their parents from getting run over this year, and the paramedics who came to our rescue the other night when my husband lost consciousness.

For me, baking soothes the soul and feeds the belly of those I love. I learned at the elbow of my mother, and my six-year-old daughter is already adept with a rolling pin. (Somehow the boys lost interest in the process years ago.)

With a long weekend ahead, I think I hear the kitchen calling me. I'll probably dip into my recipe box for a few favorites I've received from friends--which I think ultimately taste better since you know the person who baked it first.

Here are two cookie recipes I absolutely love that were baked first by friends. (These are both twice their original measurements; my theory is you just can't have too many cookies in the house! Plus they freeze well.)

Pam Koenig's Soft Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup butter flavored Crisco
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 T. vanilla
5 cups flour (unbleached, all-purpose)
2 t. baking powder
2 t. salt

Mix together the first five ingredients. Stir in the dry ingredients. Chill overnight (or most of the day). Roll out on floured counter top (to desired thickness) and cut out. Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets (or ungreased if you don't use parchment) at 400 degrees for about seven minutes. May bake longer if thicker but watch them--at 400 degrees, they go from underdone to overdone fairly quickly.

Cynthia Hester's Oatmeal Cookies

Cream together:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup butter-flavored Crisco
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups granulated sugar

Add in:
4 eggs
1 1/2 T. vanilla
2 T. milk

Stir together:
4 cups flour (all-purpose, unbleached)
2 t. salt
2 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
5 cups oatmeal (I measure mine and then run it through my food processor so it's not 'bulky.')

Add dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg/vanilla mixture and then fold in about one pound of chocolate chips. I use a delicious choco-combo of mini chips, chips, chunks--basically whatever I have in the pantry. Refrigerate until chilled then scoop with a cookie scooper. Press in M&Ms if you want even more flavor. Either way, these are delicious. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 min. or so on parchment-lined (or ungreased) cookie sheets.

What are you baking this weekend?