Sunday, February 21, 2010

- Channeling Mom: The best oatmeal cookies ever

I was slowly sinking into the sofa, getting more horizontal and closer to sleep by the minute … a common enough occurrence after a long day of work and a good dinner.  But something kept tugging at the edges of my consciousness, much as I tried to ignore it.  It became an irresistible impulse, and I found myself heading into the kitchen to make cookies.

Although the truth is, cookie making has been something of a disappointment since we came out to Texas.  I miss my convection oven, and the chocolate chip cookies that were my pride and joy in Virginia just don’t come out the same since we moved.  Still, I love chocolate and what I craved was my Mom’s oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips.  Just one problem:  I have yet to succeed at making them.

Mom’s cookie recipe came from a 1959 cookbook created by the gentle women of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church.  The brown-edged pages betray its age, and page 70 in particular is covered with spatters of butter, eggs, and vanilla from years gone by.  

The red penciled notes still visible in Aunt Libby’s recipe for Oatmeal Coconut Wafers leave one to wonder if Mom’s “excellent” refers to the original recipe or her variation on it.  She never went back to insert a note about adding chocolate chips, but one thing’s for sure: her substitution of wheat germ for coconut was inspired.  Mom’s oatmeal cookies were always lacy thin, with a crisp finish that eluded me every time I tried to duplicate them. 

“Just bang the pan halfway through baking them,” she would say when I called to bewail my latest failure.  And so I’d try again, slamming the pans against the oven door to no avail.

“Maybe it’s the weather,” she said on yet another attempt. “You really should only make them when the weather is dry and it’s awfully humid down your way.”

Well, with the recent Texas hydrology report of rainfall at 150-450% above normal, I figured I was doomed to failure yet again.  Flipping open the cookbook, I pondered how to adjust the recipe and tossed ingredients into the bowl.  Tasting the end result, I decided that it wouldn’t much matter if the cookies didn’t come out … the dough was delicious.  I wrote down the recipe, just in case it was worth keeping.

It was, and it is.

Garrison Trail Granola Cookies 
(makes 3 dozen)

1/3 cup Land O Lakes Spreadable Butter with Canola Oil
1/3 cup white sugar (scant)
1/3 cup brown sugar (generous)
½ tsp vanilla (more or less)
Revised 8/28: 1/6 cup beaten egg (half of a 1/3 cup measure)
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup Kretschmer Original Toasted Wheat Germ
1/3 cup chopped Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup Garrison Trail Granola (see recipe index to the right)

Cream butter and sugars.  Beat in vanilla and egg.  Fold in dry ingredients.  Batter will be quite moist.  Scoop ½ tsp. portions onto parchment paper (trust me, you don’t want to bake these directly on the cookie sheet, no matter how well you butter it).

Bake 6 minutes at 350:
When cookies have puffed up, slam the pan on the oven door to flatten them:
Bake 2-3 minutes longer until dark golden brown:
Slide the cookies, parchment paper and all, onto a wire rack to cool.  BTW, these are insanely good broken up and sprinkled over Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream.

Bigger Batch

1 cup Land O Lakes Spreadable Butter with Canola Oil
1 cup white sugar (scant)
1 cup brown sugar (generous)
1 tsp vanilla (more or less)
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup Kretschmer Original Toasted Wheat Germ
1 cup chopped Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3 cups Garrison Trail Granola (see recipe index to the right)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

- Comfort Food: Chicken Pot Pie

Long ago and far away, I traveled to Wisconsin a fair bit. Strange, but the integrated library system that we used at Colonial Williamsburg was licensed from a firm in Brillion, so trips to users group meetings in the Green Bay area became an annual event. One of the earlier jaunts lasted several days, and I soon tired of restaurant food and motel accommodations. By the time we headed back to Virginia, all I could think of was a home cooked meal and my own bed.

Flying into O’Hare late in the afternoon, facing a fairly extended layover, we decided to get an early dinner … one last meal out. Fortunately, we found our way to a diner where I ordered chicken pot pie. It was the ultimate comfort food. A buttery brown crust broke open to reveal a rich chicken broth, shreds of real chicken, chunks of floury potato, and nuggets of sweet carrot. Granted, it did have some tired peas, but they were easily fished out and put aside (peas should never be subjected to extended cooking, imho). The pot pie was so good that I tried to imitate it when I got home. And I’ve been refining the recipe ever since.

The most recent version got us through a rainy gray day, with leftovers to spare. Give it a try next time you find yourself debating what to do with a leftover rotisserie chicken.

Chicken Pot Pie

½ rotisserie chicken
2 small to medium potatoes
2 small or 1 large carrot, shredded
A handful of mushrooms, sliced relatively thin
1 shallot, sliced fine
1 cup Bisquick
1/3 cup milk
Butter and flour for roux

Take the meat off the chicken and set aside. Cover the leftover bones and skin with 6 cups of water and simmer for an hour or so until you have about 4 cups of rich broth.

Make a roux by melting 2 Tbs. of butter and adding 2 heaping Tbs. flour. Whisk in the broth and cook until thickened.

Nuke the potatoes until tender, leave the skins on and cut into rough dice. Put in the bottom of a 2 quart casserole. Top with shredded carrot, sliced mushrooms and sliced shallots. No need to cook the veggies … they will be get all the cooking they need in the oven. Layer on bite sized pieces of chicken.

Pour in warm, thickened broth until it just covers the chicken. Top with a biscuit crust made by quickly mixing 1/3 cup of milk into 1 cup of Bisquick with a fork. Handle the dough gently … rolling it out on a pastry cloth, flouring the rolling pin a bit to keep it from sticking.

Bake at 425 until the crust is golden and the sauce is bubbling (easy to see if you use a clear Pyrex casserole dish) … about 15 minutes, give or take.