Snickerdoodles

Cinnamon, sugar, butter — and the puffy-soft/slightly crispy texture is what makes this classic cookie one of my favorites.  The key is just the right ratio of ingredients, and using baking soda and cream of tartar for leavening.

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

Here’s a bonus – this is recipe is supremely easy to throw together — no need for a mixer.  Enjoy!

Snickerdoodles

2 sticks unsalted butter
10 1/2 oz (1 1/2 cups) white sugar
2 large eggs
14 1/2 oz (about 3) cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

For rolling: combine 3 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) sugar with 4 tsp ground cinnamon in a small bowl.  Set aside.

For the dough: Melt the butter.  Stir together the 1 1/2 cups sugar, melted butter, and eggs.

Mix or sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt in a bowl.  Add flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low until just combined.

Make large (almost 1/4 cup) balls of dough.  Roll balls of dough in the sugar/cinnamon mixture and place on baking sheet, allowing at least 2 inches between cookies.

Bake at 400 until done (see note.)  Check after 11 minutes.  The cookies should be golden on the edges, but still soft and tiny bit doughy in the center.  They will set up more when they cool, so don’t over bake them.   Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

HOT TIP:  you can easily freeze the prepared but unbaked balls of dough.  Just set them on a tray, freeze until firm, then pop them in a container and store in the freezer.   Whenever the desire for a cookie hits just pop a few in the oven, bake for 15 minutes or so, and you have fresh hot cookies ready to go.

Beef Chili

Rich chilies, tangy tomatoes and savory beef make a bowl of chili a homey, soul satisfying classic.  A friend had a bonanza of grass fed ground beef, and I was the happy recipient of her largesse.  This bowl of chili was the result.

Bowl of Chili

Bowl of Chili

Chili is fast, nourishing, and tasty.  The key?  Good chili powder.  There are many different chili powders from which to choose.  Chili powder is a mix of ground chilies and other spices, while ground chilies is just that — ground, dried chili.

Chili flavor agents: onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin

Chili flavor agents: onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin

I like my Beef Chili spicy, so I use a hot chili powder.  If you like your chili on the mild side, buy a mild chili powder.  Whatever your taste, be sure to use enough chili powder — the key to Beef Chili flavor.  This is fabulous served with hot corn bread.  Enjoy!

Beef Chili

1 LB lean ground beef
one yellow onion, diced
2 TB olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
2  cans (14 oz each) diced tomatoes, or equivalent amount fresh chopped tomatoes
2  cans (14 oz each) beans, drained, or three cups home cooked beans (kidney beans, pintos, and black beans are all great)
1 1/2 cups water
3 – 4 TB chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 – 3 tsp. salt

In a large covered pot, saute onion in olive oil until turning translucent.  Add the ground beef and garlic.  Fry until beef is getting a bit of brown color.  Add all other ingredients, starting with 2 tsp. salt, especially if you’re using canned beans and tomatoes which usually contain added salt.  Bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered for at least one hour.  Serve piping hot in bowls, with corn bread or tortillas on the side.

Chili is a great dish to make ahead, as it keeps well in the fridge for several days.  You may also freeze chili for later use.

Homemade Hummus

Smooth, tasty, and as old school as it gets — homemade hummus is really simple.  This classic chickpea and tahini dish has been made for centuries in the middle east — no food processors needed.  (But if you have one, it takes less effort.)

Homemade hummus topped with olive oil

Homemade hummus topped with olive oil

cooked chickpeas

cooked chickpeas

Learn to make hummus at home and you will be a happy person, and keep some change in your pocket, too, as it’s a frugal dish.  There are a couple tips for getting the best consistency, starting with cooking dried chickpeas.  Canned are fine as a substitute, though the super creamy consistency of your hummus will suffer a bit.  Consider this recipe a template.  You can adjust seasoning and consistency easily by tweaking the ingredients.  Using fresh lemon juice adds an important lively note, while garlic and ground cumin add savory flavor.  Enjoy!

for Lucy

Hummus
makes about 2 cups

2 1/4 cups soft cooked chickpeas * (two 16 oz. cans chickpeas, drained, may be subsituted)
1/3 cup (3 oz) tahini
1/2 cup water
sea salt
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3 – 4 TB lemon juice
3 TB extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling on top
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and grind until smooth.  If you are using your own cooked chickpeas (recipe below), start with 1 tsp. salt.  If you are using canned chickpeas, start with 1/2 tsp. salt. Process until smooth, and taste the hummus.  Adjust salt, lemon juice, and spices to your liking.  The cayenne pepper won’t make this dish spicy at all — it serves to activate your taste buds.

This recipe makes a lightly seasoned, light and fluffy hummus.  Feel free to add a little more water if you prefer a thinner consistency.  Serve in a shallow bowl or platter.  If you like, drizzle with your best quality extra virgin olive oil, and perhaps add some additional cooked chickpeas or olives.  Serve at room temperature with pita, boiled new potatoes, cucumber spears, anything you thing would taste great with hummus.  Store uneaten hummus in the fridge for up to a week.  Hummus freezes well.  Just thaw gently and bring to room temp before eating.

If you don’t have a food processor, use a large mortar and pestle to grind and blend the ingredients until smooth.  They’ve been doing this for centuries in the middle east.  Though there is an ongoing debate as to the origins of hummus, I credit the Lebanese.

If you don’t have a large mortar and pestle, try using a large bowl and spoon.  It will really help to cook your own chickpeas rather than using canned if you use this technique.  Canned chickpeas contain salt and calcium chloride to keep them whole and firm — just the opposite of what you want from chickpeas for hummus.  Add some soft chickpeas to the bowl, and smash them against the inside of the bowl.  Repeat until they are all smashed.  Add the other ingredients and stir or whisk until smooth.

* I recommend that you cook your own chickpeas.  They are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and the texture of your finished hummus will be smoother.  In a large pot, put one pound rinsed dried chickpeas, 2 quarts water, and 1/4 tsp. baking soda.  Bring to a simmer, cover and barely simmer for about 3 – 4 hours, or until the chickpeas are very soft but still holding their shape.  Drain and cool to room temperature.  You can see my cooked chickpeas in the photo above.  This will make about twice as much cooked chickpeas as needed in this hummus recipe.  You may freeze the extra cooked chickpeas for use in another recipe, or just make a big batch of hummus and store in the freezer.

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup is velvety, tasty, nutritionally loaded – and surprisingly simple to make.

Butternut squash soup

Butternut squash soup

There are many varieties of squash, but nothing rivals the queenly butternut squash in this soup because of its smooth, creamy texture.

Butternut squash chunks

Butternut squash chunks

Sauted onion creates a savory base, and a touch of spice lends interest to the otherwise sweet and pleasing flavor of butternut squash.  While this soup has a fabulously creamy mouth feel, it is surprisingly low in fat.  I like the flavor of butter to saute the onion in this dish, but oil works just as well.  This soup takes well to a number of garnishes, including crisp fried sage leaves, toasted buttery crumbs, or a dollop of creme fraiche.  Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash
1 yellow onion, diced
2 – 3 TB butter or oil
sea salt
dash of ground cayenne pepper or hot curry powder* (optional)

Peel the butternut squash, taking care to get past the thin pale layer that lay just beneath the skin.  Split the squash, remove the seeds from the hollow cavity, and cut the squash roughly into 2″ chunks.

Heat a large soup pan on medium heat.  Add the butter or oil to the pan and saute the onion until translucent.  If you are going to add a bit of spice, add it to the cooking onions and give give it a quick stir just before you add the squash.  Add the butternut squash chunks and then add water to not quite cover the squash.  Here’s a photo of my pan just after adding the water:

butternut squash in pot with just the right amount of water

butternut squash in pot with just the right amount of water

Add 1 tsp. salt, then cover and simmer until the squash is very tender, about 20 – 25 minutes.  Using an immersion blender or regular blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Check for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.  If the soup is too thick, add a bit of water until it gets to the consistency you prefer.

*Spice note:  I used a Penzey’s Berebere mix in my soup.  It’s quite hot, but also has a great warmth to its scent.