Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blue Ribbon Snickerdoodles

"Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap."

-Robert Fulghum

These Snickerdoodles earned me the coveted title "Best Cookie Baker of Thurston County." Here's how it went. 

The night before we decided to go to the fair, at approximately 9 pm, I looked at their website to see what was going on that day. Turns out they were having a different baking contest each day (apart from the entries displayed at the fair.) The day in question was cookies, the day after chocolate cake and so on. The cookie contest stated that the winner will be named "The Best Cookie Baker of Thurston County." It also mentioned that if you bring a plate of cookies to enter you get into the fair for free. I like free stuff, so I went to the kitchen, revved up the oven and got to work.

It was all so last minute, that's why no pictures of cookies, only fair animals. The one picture of cookies (above) I took after the fact with the remaining cookies at home.

What type of cookies should I bake? I thought. I went through a list of possibilities in my head. Chocolate chip? Too boring. Chocolate chocolate chip? Too rich, not everyone likes rich. Lemon? Not everyone likes lemon. And so on.

Snickerdoodles were it. Most people like cinnamon, sugar and butter. Remember when they did the study where they found out that men prefer the scent of cinnamon rolls baking over any other scent? I rest my case.

Not to mention I've heard these cookies described as "crack cookies." Due to their addictive qualities.

What a bunch of lazy pigs

As you already know, I won! First place! I not only got into the fair for free, I won this lovely blue ribbon, a $25.00 dollar gift certificate to a local restaurant and of course the title of The Best Cookie Baker of Thurston County.

This is a recipe I've tweaked over the years to adapt to my taste, and not to mention blue ribbon status. Crisp on the outside and chewy and soft on the inside. I like to use half butter and half butter flavored Crisco because Crisco gives them a more crisp exterior than using all butter. (Butter has 14%-18% water, Crisco is pretty much solid fat) If you prefer, you may substitute more butter for the Crisco but they won't be as crisp.


Blue Ribbon Snickerdoodles

this recipe was created by me, Melissa Graham aka The Alchemist


1/2 cup butter (1 stick) (113 g.), softened
1/2 cup (113 g.) Butter Flavored Crisco
1 1/2 cups (300 g.) white sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon butter flavored extract-optional-I have this ingredient in the house so I use it to boost the butter flavor, but if I didn't already have it I don't think I'd buy it just for this. (But I did use it in the winning cookies. FYI.)
3 1/2 cups (525 g.) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon and sugar mixed together for rolling cookies


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, 200 degrees Celsius, or Gas Mark 6.

Cream together the butter and butter flavored Crisco till fluffy. Add the sugar and beat again for about 2 minutes until really light and fluffy. Now add the eggs, vanilla and butter extract (if using) and beat well for about a minute. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber scraper/spatula and then beat again for another minute.

In a separate bowl add the flour, baking soda, salt and cream of tartar. Whisk together to blend.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat till all is incorporated.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop out dough using a 2 teaspoon size disher. Roll cookies in cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Bake on prepared sheet for about 9 minutes. In my oven after exactly 9 minutes they are perfect. This is 2 teaspoon (or slightly larger) size. Don't over bake! If you eat a hot cookie (I mean who doesn't want to eat a hot cookie?) when it's warm, it might seem doughy or under baked. But if you take that same cookie and put it in the fridge (or wait till it's cooled at room temperature) it will harden a bit and be a delightfully soft cookie. So don't determine the baking time by eating a hot cookie. The cookies should be soft on the inside and crisp on the outside.

After they come out of the oven place the baking sheet on a wire rack for just 2 minutes, then remove cookies from the baking sheet with a spatula to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fresh Corn and Bean Salad

"Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn."

 ~Garrison Keillor

Happy harvest season! Our corn is ready for picking, and we sure have been enjoying it. Just yesterday with dinner I served my husband an ear of corn I had picked within minutes of cooking. He pronounced it was the best corn he had ever eaten. Juicy and sweet, it is the delicious reward after months of growing.

I have made this salad multiple times this summer. The first time I made it, afterwards I thought, this salad sure makes a lot, I don't know if we'll eat it all (since it's just the two of us.) I was thinking I may have to feed it to the chickens in a few days. Boy was I wrong. The both of us ate it all, in just a few days and enjoyed every bite.

This salad is incredibly fresh tasting and full of veggies. The perfect accompaniment for a burger, or a piece of fish or whatever protein your heart desires. Or heck, just eat it alone. It's full of beans, so it's filling, healthy and vegan too!

The fresh corn flavor is so amazing in this salad. Everyone has their favorite way of cooking corn. Lately mine has been baking it in the oven. The corn flavor stays intact inside their husks and it's super easy (The details are below in the recipe). Thanks Michelle for the tip!

If you don't want to turn on the oven you can always cook it on the stove. In my Dean and Deluca cookbook, they recommend cooking corn in their husks in boiling water. Once the water boils, place unhusked corn in, start timing once it starts boiling again and cook for about 5 minutes. The advantage to cooking corn in the husks is that the silks are easier to remove after cooking. (Wait for it to cool a bit first before removing husks.)

Fresh Corn and Bean Salad

Inspired by this recipe


1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 teaspoons ground cumin

4 ears of fresh corn, or about 2 1/2 cups frozen corn

1 -15 1/2-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1- 15 1/2-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

3 celery stalks, chopped

1 medium-size red, yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup (70 g.) chopped white onion

1/2 cup (35 g.) chopped fresh cilantro

1-2 jalapeƱo chilies, seeded and chopped -optional, depending on the spice level you desire


If using fresh corn, bake it (husks intact) in a preheated 400 degree Fahrenheit, 200 degrees Celsius, or Gas Mark 6, oven for about 45  minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Meanwhile, whisk oil, vinegar, and cumin in large bowl to blend. When corn has cooled, cut it off the ears with a knife and add it along with the remaining ingredients to the bowl. Toss it all to coat and season with salt and pepper.

Let stand before eating if possible. An hour, or a few is good so the flavors can meld. Even overnight makes for a nicely flavored salad.

Serves about 8 as a side dish.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Triple Chocolate Zucchini Bread

"I believe that the energy of humans who touched those beans goes into the beans as well. They become vibrant because of the handling. This vibrancy is something that a machine or harvester doesn't have. From my standpoint ... I believe that if food is grown and prepared with love ... infused with love ... well, it can be the humblest of food, but because it's prepared with love, it's special."

- Valerie Phipps, Pescadero, California

It's been awhile since I've been here. Since July 6th to be exact. I remember it well. I had just found out that my beloved dog, Romeo's kidneys were failing. Just a few days later, on the advice of our vet who informed us that he was suffering, we put him down. It was one of the hardest things I've ever been through. Not the putting him down part, of course I didn't want him to suffer, just the realization that he won't be a part of our lives anymore. He was my first dog. I guess our family had a dog growing up, but Romeo was my dog. That dog went with me everywhere. He made up 1/3 of our family for goodness sake. We never had children, but we had him.

Romeo- In Loving Memory 1998-2011

So I guess I've been in mourning. I didn't intend to stop blogging for this long, or at all, I just felt like I couldn't. I took pictures of food, but I couldn't get myself to download the pictures. Maybe because I'd have to look at the last pictures I took of him. Today is the first time I've downloaded pictures in 2 + months. And there it is. The last photo of that sweet face. It's hard to look at. Loss and grieving is a difficult process and my heart goes out to you if you've gone through it.

My husband built me a windmill for our garden

Life goes on. I have a garden that's full of it, life that is. I grow stuff I like to eat as long as it's easy to grow. Zucchini's might be my favorite, it seems like you turn your back and they've grown the length of a football. Gotta love a plant that makes food for you in such an easy, nonchalant manner, it's like the plant is saying, "Oh this? This is nothing. I've got 10 more where that came from." And it does. Pumpkins are another favorite. Mine are just starting to turn orange.

The door to the garden

Zucchini is so versatile too, and I've been eating my share. One of my favorite breakfasts that I've been eating almost everyday has been a scramble made of diced zucchini, red bell peppers, onions, fresh basil and scrambled eggs. Sometimes I use fresh rosemary instead of fresh basil. It's delicious, I highly recommend it.

Zucchini Terrific! Like Bunnies, Prolific!
-Author Unknown

Zucchini, especially those big ones, are so perfect for breads. This happens to be my favorite zucchini bread of all time, I've been making it for years. Mid way through this post I realized I had blogged about this bread before, back in 2009. Oh well. This is so good, it deserves another go. Since then I've actually improved it, so it's not the same recipe exactly. I developed this bread (actually more of a cake) as a delicious, moist, and decadent vehicle to hold my home grown zucchini. You should trust me on this. I am famous for my fabulous quick breads. It features 3 types of chocolate, hence the name. Unsweetened squares, cocoa powder and chocolate chips. I believe this gives it a multi dimension of rich chocolate flavor.

If you are using a huge, homegrown torpedo sized zucchini, you need to scoop out the big seeds inside.

Using a parchment paper sling allows you to remove the bread from the pan easily. Sometimes chocolate chips fall to the bottom of this bread and stick to the bottom of the pan no matter how well you grease it.  the sling makes lifting the bread from the pan a cinch, and sticking to the bottom a non issue. So you get a perfectly intact loaf every time.

If you have a zucchini hater in your family they won't even know the zucchini is there. You can't see it and you can't taste it. But it does add moisture, fiber and nutrition. Just tell them it's their lucky day and you've made them a rich and decadent chocolate cake.

More incredible quick breads

Melissa's Famous Banana Bread

Rhubarb Nut Bread

Triple Chocolate Zucchini Bread

created by Melissa aka The Alchemist

This recipe makes 2 loaves


3 oz. unsweetened chocolate (3- one ounce squares)
3 eggs
2 cups (400 g.) white sugar
1 cup (240 ml.) neutral oil (I used grape seed oil, use whatever neutral oil you wish)
1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream or yogurt (full fat is best, but use what you wish)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups (380 g.) grated zucchini, lightly packed
2 cups (300 g.) flour
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (163 g.) semi sweet or dark chocolate chips, plus a small handful more for topping (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 180 degrees Celsius, or Gas Mark 4.

Prepare 2 loaf pans. You need to grease the pan and use parchment paper to make a "sling" to lift the loaf out when finished. Grease the parchment too. (Some of the chocolate chips may sink to the bottom, and if they do, it's almost impossible to get the loaf out in perfect shape without the sling, trust me.)

Melt the squares of unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan on medium high heat, or place in a microwave safe bowl and cook on 50% power for about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until melted, set aside.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the oil and the warm melted chocolate and whisk together. Now add the sour cream and whisk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla and whisk well, (or if using an electric mixer, use that and beat well.)

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa. Measure out the one cup of chocolate chips and place in another bowl. Take a few Tablespoons of the flour/cocoa mixture and mix it in the chocolate chips (this prevents them from falling to the bottom of the pan.) Take the bowl off the stand mixer (if using) and mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients by hand (not literally with your hand, with a spoon, not a mixer.) Now add the zucchini breaking up any large chunks if there are any, and mix. Once that is all incorporated dump the chocolate chips and the little bit of flour mixture into the bowl. Mix them in till they are incorporated, but only until then (don't over mix.)

Pour batter into prepared loaf pans. Bake for about 50-60 minutes. Half way through cooking time (after 30 minutes of baking), sprinkle the extra handful of chocolate chips (if using) on top of loaves, and rotate the loaves in the oven from front to back. Loaves will be done when they pass a toothpick test.

Cool on wire racks for 30 minutes in pan, then remove sling from pan and let it sit on the parchment paper until cool. Wrap in plastic or place in an airtight container when totally cooled. Loaves will stay fresh for 3-4 days or so. If you want them to last longer, they freeze extraordinarily well. Just double (or triple) (the secret to them staying fresh in the freezer is to be totally air tight.) wrap them in plastic wrap and place in a large Ziploc bag. They will keep in the freezer for 6 months, easy. If wrapped really well, they will keep for a year.