Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cooking With Gas

Fire was a game changer for humankind. It gave us light, warmth, the ability to cook, and a nice place to sit and socialize.  Something for everyone. No wonder throughout the ages mankind has been obsessed with it. 

Grilling is controlled fire. My dear father-in-law had a beautiful, grill installed for me. What a lovely gift. We are like-minded in our love of grilling, but my grill was falling apart. It was so old it was not possible to get parts to keep it going. 

I had to remove some vegetation and lay paving stones to make way for the shiny, new grill. It was a little harder to get things level than I thought it would be. Perhaps, it was payback for my obsession with the level during our kitchen remodel.

A few years ago Addison, Maddie, and I were in Italy on vacation. We spent a lot of time driving around lost. When we finally found our way we would say, "Now we are cooking with gas." One of us would quickly add "diesel", since the car ran on diesel fuel. So, the saying "Cooking with gas" has become one of our mottos when things are going right. 

          It is level? Don't look too close.

I use my grill a lot, keeping it simple is essential. I like to grill chicken and vegetables for a quick, easy meal. This marinade is as simple as it gets. It only has four ingredients, but you can enhance it with fresh, chopped herbs, ginger, or whatever you fancy. While I use it most often for chicken it is equally good on pork tenderloin or flank steak. 

The balsamic vinegar slightly caramelizes adding a touch of sweetness. You can use a glass bowl to marinate the chicken, but I find plastic, zip-lock bags the easiest way to go. Marinate the meat for a few hours or over night. It works well with vegetables, too, but only marinate them for 30 minutes to an hour or they will get soggy. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. Just use equal parts of vinegar and oil. I don't add salt to the marinade, instead I salt the meat right before grilling.

I have always had a garden, but the size of it has changed considerably over the years. When the children were small the garden was large, ironically, as they grew, the garden seemed to shrink. There just wasn't the time to tend it that was necessary. But the one part that has been constant is the asparagus patch. Being one of the few perennial vegetables and needing little attention, it was easy to keep it going year after year. 

In my humble opinion, there is nothing quite as lovely as asparagus straight from your garden. It is so tender and sweet it can be eaten raw. Often the tiniest stalks don't make it to the house. I eat them standing in the garden.

Balsamic Vinegar Marinade

1/2 cup (125 ml) balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic sliced or crushed
fresh-cracked pepper

Combine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and pepper in plastic zip-lock bag. Add desired meat (or vegetables). Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Can be marinated over night. Remove from meat or vegetables from marinade and cook on a hot grill.

Toss asparagus with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill until al dente. Roll to turn.

Grilling is easy and it only takes a few minutes which leaves plenty of time to relax and socialize, preferably around a nice, cosy fire. Now we are cooking with gas.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Comfort Cookies

Maddie got her driver’s license. I am pleased to remove chauffeur from my long list of jobs, but I will miss our time spent together in the car. We had a lot of good conversations when neither of us could escape. Of course, she is thrilled. What 16 year-old wants to drive with the constant monitoring of a parent? But there are so many drivers on the road and so many distractions. 

When I started driving ages ago no one put make-up on while behind the wheel of a car, (okay maybe a little lipstick in the rear view mirror, at a stop light, but nothing more). No one read a book, let alone talked on the phone or worse sent a text message. People didn’t even eat while they drove. Now with millions of cars on the road and everyone doing who knows what, I’m a little nervous, actually a lot nervous. I find myself saying a lot of prayers and needing a little comfort which for me comes in the form of a cookie. 

This is basically a chocolate chip cookie recipe, with a few twists - ground, rolled oats add texture, not to mention oats are good comfort food. It goes without saying that chocolate is necessary in most cookies, at least in my book. Using rough, chopped, chocolate, chunks (try saying that fast three times) instead of chips give constant bursts of flavor. Plus, chopping the chocolate is a good stress reliever. Coconut and almonds add richness and a touch of crunch. I find most people have a strong opinion about coconut - they either love it or hate it. If you hate it, don't use it. If you feel the same about adding nuts to cookies, leave them out as well. The recipe calls for semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, but milk chocolate works fine, too. If you are more of a dried fruit person, add raisins or chopped cherries. Just add (or subtract) whatever brings you comfort.

Process rolled oats in a food processor until finely ground.

Add flour, baking soda, and salt and process a few seconds to blend.

Rough chop any ingredients such as nuts, chocolate, or dried fruit.  Or use regular chocolate chips and packaged chopped nuts if you don't need to relieve stress. I used almonds, but pecans, walnuts, or any nut will do.

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix until creamy.

Add the dry ingredients a little at a time and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

Fold in chocolate, nuts, and coconut with a large rubber spatula .

Fold just until blended to keep the cookies tender.

A small ice cream scoop makes portioning the cookie dough a snap. Flatten the cookies slightly with the back of the scoop.

Let the cookies rest a minute or two before moving to a rack to cool completely. 

Comfort Cookies

2 cups (160 g) old-fashioned rolled oats 
1 3/4 cups (210 g) all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (113 g) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (215 g) packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (120 g) chopped nuts, optional
1/2 cup (40 g) coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), optional
8 ounces (226 g) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350℉ (175℃). Finely grind oats in a food processor. Add flour, baking soda and salt. Process until blended.

Beat butter and sugars in a mixer. Add eggs and vanilla, continue beating until well blended. Add dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Fold in nuts, coconut, and chocolate. 

Form dough into balls. Place on cookie sheet lined with a silicone baking mat, parchment, or a plain ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten cookie ball slightly. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool a few minutes on cookie sheet then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Like most cookies, these are delicious warm from the oven.