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My grandmother always, and I mean always had three things in her kitchen: Butter Brickle ice cream, Junior Mints, and a box of pecan sandies. The ice cream was Brickle, not brittle. The Junior Mints were always kept in the refrigerator, and the cookie supply never, ever dwindled.

It wasn’t until years after she passed that I learned that my grandfather would wake her every morning with a hot cup of coffee and two pecan sandies on a plate. When he passed, she kept that ritual going even though she had to do it herself.

These were not the only constants with Grandma. Her laughs were always punctuated with a snort, her hugs were as tight as she was tiny (4’11”), and she stayed pissed off at the Oakland Raiders for moving to LA, even after they moved back to their rightful home. Until the day she died, she called them the “The Traders”.

In my house, to make these cookies is to summon her closer. The hugs are gone forever, but I can almost hear a quick peal of laughter followed by a snort and a sigh.

Pecan Sandies*

1/2 cup browned butter, cold (instructions can be found here)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F. Take a 1/2 cup of the pecans and chop as finely as you can without turning them into butter. Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and paddle on medium speed until the mixture become light, white and somewhat fluffy, about 10 minutes.
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Add the vanilla and salt and combine well. Add the flour and stir on the lowest speed. When the mixture is almost completely combined, add the entire cup of pecans and stir in.
Scoop the dough into 18 or so ping pong ball-sized pieces, dip each in the remaining brown sugar, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Using a glass or a small mug, gently press down on each cookie to flatten (about 1/2″ thick).

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Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges are light golden brown but still very soft in the center. Eat with reckless abandon.

*This is a variation of the Martha Stewart recipe found here. It is wonderful if you don’t have time to make browned butter.

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Happy Strawberry Shortcake Day, folks. I just came back from a party dipped in pink princess awesomeness, and it was so splendid. I do miss pink and sparkly every now and then, but I wouldn’t change what I’ve got for anything.

That said, I am building a tower of pink pinkness that will satisfy my girly craving for the one color I don’t have very much of in my own home. The extra meringue layer I am sneaking into my strawberry shortcakes is flavored and colored with freeze-dried strawberries reduced to a fine powder and folded in. The meringues come out so flavorful and sooooPINK! Just what I wanted!

Strawberry Meringues

1 c. freeze dried strawberries (I use the sliced ones found at Trader Joe’s)
2 egg whites
1/2 c. sugar
A few drops of lemon juice
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to the lowest setting (250F or lower is ideal).
Place the strawberries in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are powdered. You should have about 5 Tbsp. Set aside.
Place the egg whites and sugar in a bowl and set over a double boiler. Heat the egg mixture, whisking constantly, until the temperature reaches 140F. Remove from the heat and transfer to a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the lemon juice and whip on high speed until the mixture cools to room temperature and a stiff meringue is achieved. Add the vanilla and mix just until combined.
Fold the strawberry powder in with a rubber spatula.
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Using a bag fitted with a plain piping tip, pipe six flat discs of meringue onto a paper-lined sheet pan. Pipe a bunch of little kisses with the rest of the meringue. Great for garnish, great for snacking.
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Bake until the meringues are crisp and dry, but remove before they begin to brown around the edges, about 45-60 minutes, depending on the lowest setting on your oven.

Shortcakes

1 cup cake flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp lemon zest
2 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp very cold butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the first five ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and continue to pulse until a very coarse meal forms. Add the yolks and cream and pulse until it forms a rough dough. Remove the dough and knead gently to form a cohesive dough. Chill for 30 minutes. Flatten the dough to 1/2″ thickness and cut with a circle cutter (these discs should be about the same size as the meringue discs). Bake until light golden, about 15-18 minutes.

The Strawberries

2 pints fresh strawberries, stemmed and quartered
2 Tbsp. brandy
3 Tbsp granulated sugar

Toss all three ingredients together in a bowl and allow to macerate for a few minutes.

Whipped Cream

1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Whip to medium-stiff peaks.

Assembly

Cut the shortcakes in half (horizontally). Place the bottom piece on a plate and top with a generous scoop of strawberries and juice. Top with an equal amount of whipped cream. Place a meringue disc atop the whipped cream, then top with another scoop of strawberries and cream. Place the top the shortcake on top. Garnish with a bit more cream and some meringue kisses.
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Here at the casa, there are five different versions of “nut” butter currently in use. We have the school peanut butter, which is actually sunflower seed, two mixed nut/seed combinations that were so fetching in the store but have yet to find love at home, and of course your smooth and chunky versions of regular old PB. As with the unexplainable number of different condiment bottles crowding my fridge, I am not 100% sure how they all got here. National Peanut Butter Cookie Day is today though, and the number of jars over here is down by one.

I love peanut butter cookies, but folks, there are rules that must be observed:

There MUST be salt. I don’t mean the sparest pinch added to the dough, either. I mean enough that you will actually identify that salt is one of the flavor component.
It is chunky, or nothing.
And, super-soft, frisbee-sized cookies that don’t hold together when you pick them up will not do.

This is my absolute favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. The cookies have lots of texture, are crispy AND chewy, and pack a whole lot of flavor into a wee little package! The added step of making brown butter makes all the difference.

Chunky Salty Peanut Butter Cookies
yields about 5 dozen cookies

2# (8 sticks) butter
3 c. sugar
2 1/4 c. packed brown sugar
3 c. peanut butter
4 eggs
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp kosher salt
3 c. roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped

To make brown butter:

Place the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Allow the butter to melt then come up to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and let the butter bubble gently. It will create a foam as it first begins to boil. Adjust the heat to a lower temperature as the foam begins to rise. Do not allow the butter to boil out of the pot.
As the foam begins to subside, gently stir the melted butter to check for doneness. The brown butter is finished once the milk solids at the bottom of the pot have turned a light to medium brown and the butter takes on a hazelnut-like scent.
Carefully remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour the butter through a fine strainer and store in a heat-resistant container until ready to use.

For the cookies:

Place the brown butter and both sugars in a mixing bowl. Cream the mixture on medium speed until light in color (five minutes or so). Add the peanut butter and continue on speed two. Add the eggs one at a time (still on speed two), then scrape the down with a rubber spatula.
Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and stir in on low speed. Once the mixture is almost combined, add the chopped nuts. Continue to mix on low speed just until the dough is completely combined.

Chill the dough for at least one hour before scooping and baking.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Scoop the dough into walnut-sized balls. Dip the top of each ball in granulated sugar and place on a paper-lined sheetpan. Sprinkle a small pinch of kosher salt over the sheetpan. Bake until the cookies become light golden brown around the edges but still soft in the center.

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Cherry Bounce! This is not an original recipe, but it is certainly one that I’ll be experimenting with a bit this summer. The Washington Post’s article on what to do with stone fruit inspired me to try my own batch, and I hope you’ll try it too.
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I mean to shout, it could not be any easier, and the payoff is grand.

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Gather 1 pound of fresh cherries, 2 3/4 c. sugar, and 4 c. of the liquor of your choice (see article). I picked vodka because it will result in a beautiful red/pink hue and should have the purest cherry flavor.
I’m still learning about vodka brands and which ones I like, and this one, I like. Fugu by Ballast Point is a small-batch brand based in my home state of California. And, it’s well-priced. And! It even makes a nice cocktail.
Put it all in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake it, baby!

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Okay, okay, you do have to give this one a few weeks to take on any flavor, but come on. When all of this season’s cherries are gone, we’ll have a little of this to remember them by.